The latest data on asylum grant rates in Immigration Court is out, and as expected, the news is not great. Overall asylum grant rates in court continued to decline in FY 2019, but the news is not all bad. Courts adjudicated a record number of asylum cases this past year: 67,406, up from 42,224 last year and 19,779 in FY2015. Many cases are still being granted. Indeed, even though grant rates are down, in absolute numbers, more asylum cases are being approved than ever (this is because the total number of asylum cases adjudicated is way up). Also, the percentage of applicants represented by attorneys continues to climb (slowly). Here, we'll take a look at the newest data and what it means for asylum applicants.

Let's start with the bad news (so no one can accuse me of being an optimist). In FY2019, 69% of asylum seekers were denied asylum or other relief in Immigration Court. This continues a negative trend that began in FY2012, when the overall denial rate was at an all time low--only about 42% of asylum applicants were denied in that glorious year. Since then, denial rates have been steadily climbing. Last year (FY2018), the overall denial rate was 65%. Despite the general negative trend, if we break down the reasons behind the high denial rate, perhaps we can find a silver lining.

One factor affecting the overall denial rate was the large number of decisions for cases where the applicant was not represented by an attorney. For unrepresented applicants, the denial rate was 84%. Interestingly, unrepresented cases move much more quickly than represented cases: 45.3% of unrepresented cases that started in FY2019 were resolved in FY2019. In contrast, only 9.7% of represented cases that began in FY2019 have been decided. I suspect that many of the unrepresented cases are for detained applicants, as such cases tend to go much faster than non-detained cases (since the government does not like to pay for incarceration). Also, it may be that some unrepresented applicants who are recent arrivals in the U.S. have their cases adjudicated on an expedited basis.

Another major factor affecting denial rates is country of origin. Four of the top five source countries for asylum seekers are El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, and Honduras. Together, these countries represented about 22% of all asylum cases decided in Immigration Court in FY2019. But for various reasons (harsh U.S. laws, difficulty proving nexus), these countries tend to have higher-than-average asylum denial rates--in the range of 80% denials. So if you factor out these four countries, the overall denial rate would be lower (if you are from one of these countries, it is very helpful to talk to a lawyer and think through the most effective way to present your case). You can look up the success rate for people from your country here (this data can be broken down by court, but not by individual judge).

Other factors that contribute to the high denial rate include detained cases and one-year-bar cases, which are both harder to win than non-detained cases and cases filed on time. A final--and unexpected--factor in the high denial rate is the government shut-down of January 2019. During that period, only detained cases were adjudicated, and since such cases are more difficult to win, the denial rate during the shut-down shot up to nearly 75%. This in turn pushed up the overall denial rate for the year.

For asylum seekers who are wondering about the likelihood of success in court, all these variables must be considered. If you are represented by an attorney, if you are not from Central America or Mexico, if you are not detained, and if you file your case on time, the overall asylum denial rate should be significantly better than 69%. So I guess that is good news, sort-of.

But of course, overall denial rates are of little consequence given that grant rates vary by judge (sometimes quite dramatically). To find the name of your Immigration Judge ("IJ"), call 800-898-7180. When the machine answers, follow the instructions and enter your Alien number. You can then press "1" and hear your next court date and--hopefully--the name of your IJ. If your IJ is not listed in the system, it may mean that no one is yet assigned to the case, but you can double check by calling the Immigration Court directly and asking the receptionist whether your case is assigned to a judge. Once you know your judge's name, you can look here to find asylum denial rates for your particular IJ (for new judges, there may be no data available).

A few points about the individual IJ data: First, it is probably best to look at the most current denial rate (FY2019), since recent (negative) changes in the law may have affected the percentage of cases judges approve. Thus, the older data may be less relevant to a case today. Second, as we discussed, representation rates and country of origin affect overall grant rates. If you scroll to the bottom of the IJ's page, you can get some idea of the representation rate before that judge, as well as the source countries for asylum seekers that the judge sees. If the IJ adjudicates many unrepresented cases, and/or many cases from Central America and Mexico, this may increase that IJ's denial rate. Finally, some IJs decide large numbers of detained cases and this would also negatively affect the judge's grant rate (the data that I see does not list the percentage of detained cases decided by each judge).

Having said all this, I am not sure how useful it is. Unless you move, you have basically no control over who will be your judge. It is better, I think, to focus on what you can control: Gathering evidence and witnesses, preparing your case, and finding a competent attorney. In my experience, most IJs are fair and will listen to your case. The biggest factor in determining whether you win is usually the case itself, and the most productive thing you can do is focus on the variables you can control, and present the strongest case possible.

Finally, I would be remiss not to thank TRAC Immigration for their continued superb work gathering Immigration Court data (often under difficult circumstances). So thank you, TRAC, and keep up the good work.

Originally posted on the Asylumist: