Thursday, May 31, 2007

Big Disparities in Judging of Asylum Cases - New York Times

Big Disparities in Judging of Asylum Cases - New York Times:

"Asylum seekers in the United States face broad disparities in the nation’s 54 immigration courts, with the outcome of cases influenced by things like the location of the court and the sex and professional background of judges, a new study has found.

The study, by three law professors, analyzes 140,000 decisions by immigration judges, including those cases from the 15 countries that have produced the most asylum seekers in recent years, among them China, Haiti, Colombia, Albania and Russia. The professors compared for the first time the results of immigration court cases over more than four years, finding vast differences in the handling of claims with generally comparable factual circumstances.

In one of the starker examples cited, Colombians had an 88 percent chance of winning asylum from one judge in the Miami immigration court and a 5 percent chance from another judge in the same court.…

The study is based on data on judges’ decisions from January 2000 through August 2004. It will be posted today on the Web site of the Social Science Research Network,, and published in November in the Stanford Law Review.

In addition to Professor Schrag, the authors are Andrew I. Schoenholtz, also a professor at Georgetown University Law Center, and Jaya Ramji-Nogales, a professor at Beasley School of Law at Temple University.

According to the study, great differences also prevail among judges sitting on the same court and hearing similar asylum cases. In the Miami immigration court, one judge granted 3 percent of the asylum cases, while another granted 75 percent.

One of the most significant factors determining whether a judge would be likely to approve asylum petitions was sex, the study found. Female immigration judges grant asylum at a 44 percent higher rate than their male colleagues.

The study by the three professors did not examine the judges’ political affiliation or the administration that appointed them.

The study suggests that the different willingness to grant asylum between male and female judges may in part have to do with their backgrounds. Of 78 female judges in the study, 27 percent had previously worked for organizations that defended the rights of immigrants or the poor, while only 8 percent of 169 male judges had similar experience.…

The variations between courts and among judges were particularly troubling, the authors of the study argued, because of the impact of procedural changes introduced by the Bush administration in 2002 at the Board of Immigration Appeals, the appellate body that reviews decisions by the immigration court judges.

Those changes led to a “sudden and lasting decline” in appeals that were favorable to asylum seekers, the study found, raising doubts as to whether the board was providing fair appeals.

In 2002, Attorney General John Ashcroft made streamlined the work of the appeals board, reducing the number of board members to 11 from 23 and encouraging more decisions by single members and without explanation.

The study looked at 76,000 decisions by the appeals board from 1998 through 2005. Asylum applicants who were represented by lawyers received favorable appeals decisions from the board in 43 percent of cases in 2001, the year before the changes took effect. By 2005, asylum seekers with lawyers won their appeals in 13 percent of cases.

“The judges handle a very large caseload, they’re human, they are not going to catch every detail,” said Mary Meg McCarthy, director of the National Immigrant Justice Center, a legal assistance group in Chicago. “But once they streamlined the Board of Immigration Appeals,” Ms. McCarthy said, “there was a failure of the board to review those cases, to check on what the immigration judge had found. When that failed, we had a real crisis in the system.”

As a result of the trends at the appeals board, there has been a new surge of asylum appeals to the federal circuit courts, in practice the last resort for immigration cases. Over all, the number of people winning asylum in the United States has declined, dropping by about 12 percent from 28,684 in 2003 to 25,257 in 2005, the last year when complete figures are available."

con·cept: Big Disparities in Judging of Asylum Cases - New York Times