The Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), the organization that oversees our nation's Immigration Courts, has released new data about asylum grant rates by country of origin. While EOIR deserves credit for trying to be more transparent, it is difficult to know what to make of these numbers. They are confusing, poorly organized, and--for lack of a better word--strange.

Here, we'll take a look at the data and try to parse some meaning from EOIR's madness.

Let's start with the basics. EOIR has released information about asylum decisions in Immigration Court. The data is broken down by country of origin, and so if you are an asylum seeker, you can find your country and see how your fellow nationals are doing in court. The data is recent and covers the period from October 1, 2022 (the beginning of the fiscal year) to April 21, 2023. This begs the first of many questions: Why did EOIR release this data now, rather than, say, wait until the end of the fiscal year? They do not tell us, but given that the agency has released very little data over the last half decade, maybe we should just be grateful that they are finally publishing some information.

For each country, EOIR has provided several data points: The number of asylum cases granted, the percentage of cases granted, the number of asylum denials, the percentage of cases denied, and a category called "Other," which includes cases where a decision was made, but where asylum was neither granted nor denied.

The "Granted" and "Denied" categories are self-explanatory, but the "Other" category is confusing. According to EOIR, it includes, "a decision of abandonment, grant WCAT, not adjudicated, other, or withdrawn." WCAT is Withholding of Removal pursuant to the United Nations Convention Against Torture. My questions about the "Other" category include: Why did EOIR include such a wide variety of outcomes in one category? Why didn't they include DCAT (Deferral of Removal under the CAT)? Why did they include "other" in the "Other" category and what does "other" include? The fact that EOIR has bunched so many disparate outcomes into one category is strange, and it renders that category essentially useless for purposes of helping us understand what is happening in Immigration Court.

Another strange aspect of the data is that it uses an asterisk (*) instead of a zero (0) in the different categories. So for example, for Canada, there were no asylum cases in court, and so instead of putting 0, they write *. I have no idea why EOIR has done this, but it gets even stranger since the asterisk does not always mean zero. For some countries, EOIR lists the number of cases granted, but instead of also listing the percentage of cases granted, they put an asterisk. So for example, for Yemen, there were 14 cases granted and 25 cases where the outcome is "Other" (whatever that means). You would expect this to correspond to 36% of cases granted and 64% of cases with outcome "Other." But instead of listing these percentages, EOIR only provides an asterisk. Why this should be, I have no idea.

Another aspect of the data set that I find strange involves the list of countries. Looking over the list, one "country" is the Heard and McDonald Islands. But this is not a country at all. It is a small archipelago owned by Australia and located in the south Pacific (the closest landmass is Antarctica). It is uninhabited except for scientists who visit periodically for research purposes. Not surprisingly, there are no asylum cases from the Heard and McDonald Islands. I wonder why EOIR has included these islands on the list of countries. Is this a joke? Maybe. But I have to say that I do not think it is very funny. As an agency, EOIR is a disaster. More than two million people are waiting for their cases to be adjudicated, and cases are constantly being re-arranged and canceled, seemingly at random. Maybe EOIR should focus more on resolving their many problems rather than disrespecting asylum seekers by planting inside jokes in their data.

One final strange item (and I am pretty sure there are others) is Scandinavia. I see that there were 462 asylum cases from Norway and that 293 (63%) were granted. What? Why are so many people seeking asylum from Norway? Frankly, I do not believe that this number is accurate. Also, there were (supposedly) 38 asylum cases from Sweden and 18 (47%) were granted. Denmark and Finland are not even listed as countries.

Leaving aside all the unusual aspects of these statistics, let's discuss the value of this information. Of course, you can look at your country to see how your fellow nationals have been doing in Immigration Court during the past several months. But I would argue that this is of little value. First, I have real doubts about the validity of the data (see, e.g., Norway). Indeed, during the Trump Administration, TRAC Immigration, a non-profit organization that monitors EOIR, concluded that "data updated through April 2020... on asylum and other applications for relief to the Immigration Courts are too unreliable to be meaningful." It seems that little has changed in this regard under President Biden. Second, even if the data is accurate, there is still too much that we do not know. For example, it is very difficult to win asylum from El Salvador (10%), but if you are a transgender asylum seeker from El Salvador, the grant rate is much higher. And so without more information, the raw approval rate for a given country may not accurately reflect the likelihood of success in a specific case. Also, asylum grant rates vary by judge, and this must be considered when thinking about the odds for success in a particular case.

In the end, EOIR's data leaves us with more questions than answers. I would not go so far as to say that the information is completely useless, but if you are looking for clues about the likelihood for success in your case, this data is of very limited value. I would not lose hope if your country has a low grant rate, and I would not feel overconfident if your country has a high grant rate. Either way, it is important to gather evidence, address legal issues, and prepare the strongest case possible. That is the best way to increase the odds of a positive outcome, regardless of what EOIR's data suggests.

Originally posted on the Asylumist: