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July 31, 2006

Wide Disparities in Immigration Court Asylum Denials

Immigration judges deny asylum applications at widely disparate rates, according to a new report issued by Syracuse University’s Transaction Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC).  Most judges denied about 65% of asylum requests; but about ten percent of the judges denied asylum in 86% of cases, while another ten percent denied asylum in 34% of cases.

“These dramatic disparities make it clearer than ever that judicial review is essential to ensure that the United States does not mistakenly deport a victim of political or religious persecution back to death or danger,” said Eleanor Acer, the director of the refugee protection program for Human Rights First (HRF). “Sadly, the immigration bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives (H.R. 4437) would make it harder for asylum seekers to have the decisions of immigration judges reviewed by the federal courts.”     

In January 2006, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales announced that the Justice Department would conduct a “comprehensive review” of the immigration courts and the Board of Immigration Appeals, the administrative body that reviews the decisions of immigration judges. In connection with this review, Human Rights First recommended a number of reforms, including the following: improving the review process at the Board (by reversing changes made in 2002 by former Attorney General John Ashcroft), promoting pro bono representation, and increasing resources, training, and quality assurance.  To read HRF’s recommendations, click here

The TRAC statistics also showed that while having a lawyer did not ensure success (65% of these requests are denied), the denial rate for those without legal representation is far higher, at 93%.  HRF operates one of the largest pro bono representation programs for asylum seekers and has urged the Department of Justice to take additional steps to promote pro bono representation for immigrants.

To read the TRAC analysis, click here  http://trac.syr.edu/immigration/reports/160/