Dallas Judges Rarely Grant Asylum
A recent review of asylum decisions reveals that the grant rates for Dallas immigration judges in asylum cases is much lower than that for many other cities and the national average. And the rate has been trending down over the past few years.
According to the most recent report from the nonpartisan Transaction Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), the Dallas immigration judges denied asylum in 78.9 percent of all cases in the 6 years from fiscal years 2011-2016. Put another way, asylum-seekers in Dallas Immigration Court had about a 1 in 5 chance of winning their case. This compares to a grant rate of about 50 percent (1 in 2) for the rest of the country over that same time period. That grant rate is trending downwards both in Dallas and in the rest of the country. In FY2016 alone, the asylum grant rate nationwide decreased to 43 percent. The government reports that Dallas judges granted asylum in just 9 percent of all cases in FY2015, the last year for which the government has released information.
The local judge with the highest denial rate is Deitrich Sims. In the last six years Judge Sims decided 251 asylum claims on their merits. He granted 17 and denied the rest, for a grant rate of 6.8 percent. This is the 29th highest denial rate nationwide. Based on the figures in the report, it appears Judge Sims denied close to 100% of all asylum claims he heard in FY2016.
The judge with the highest recorded grant rate over the past 6 years in Dallas no longer works here. Judge Michael P. Baird transferred to the Atlanta Immigration Court in late 2015. From 2011-2016 he decided around the same number of asylum cases as Judge Sims but granted almost a third, 30.7 percent. However, in 2015, the last year for which numbers are available for Judge Baird, he denied over 90 percent of claims.
Since 2011, Judge Wayne Kimball has heard the most asylum cases in Dallas. He decided almost 400 cases, and granted a little over 20 percent of them. However Judge Kimball denied almost 90 percent of asylum cases last year.
Finally, Judge Richard Ozmun decided 313 asylum cases from 2011-2016 and denied 245 of them. This is a grant rate of 21.7 percent and a denial rate of over 78 percent. Judge Ozmun’s denial rate for the last 2 years has been over 90 percent.
These numbers show that it is more difficult for asylum-seekers to be successful in their cases in Dallas as compared to other parts of the country. For example, asylum seekers in New York City were granted asylum 82 percent of the time; asylum seekers in San Francisco and Boston were granted asylum in about 60 percent of cases and the grant rate in Arlington, Virginia was 70 percent. The grant rates in Houston (15 percent) and San Antonio (33 percent) are also lower than national averages.
There’s an Explanation
Part of the reason the Dallas judges have such low grant rates is based where the asylum-seekers in their courts come from. All four Dallas judges in the report heard the most cases for individuals from El Salvador, with Honduras coming in second for all of them but one, for whom cases from Mexico came in second. Asylum cases from Central America and Mexico are notoriously difficult to win, since many of these people are fleeing gang violence, which is not recognized as a basis for asylum in most of the United States, or domestic violence, which is a developing and controversial area of asylum law.
Asylum-seekers in Dallas also are less likely to be represented by an attorney in their case. Not having a lawyer makes it exponentially more likely that an asylum-seeker will lose. Nationwide, judges denied asylum to over 90 percent of unrepresented individuals. This shows why having an attorney is crucial to asylum-seekers, yet 18.7 percent go unrepresented across the country. That number is much higher in Dallas, which probably contributes to the low grant rates here. All of the Dallas judges had a higher percentage of unrepresented asylum-seekers on their dockets – ranging from Judge Sims’s court, where 28.4 percent of asylum-seekers did not have a lawyer – to Judge Baird, who heard almost half of his asylum cases (44.9%) from unrepresented individuals. Judges Kimball and Ozmun also heard claims from unrepresented asylum-seekers at a rate much higher than the national average (37.7 and 37.4 percent, respectively).
Another reason for the disparity between asylum grant rates in Dallas and the national average is the amount of discretion immigration judges are given. Several studies have concluded that asylum outcomes are increasingly dependent upon the identity of the judge assigned to the case. The individualized TRAC reports bear this out, showing a wide disparity across the country in asylum grant rates, as well as within individual courts.
Human Rights Initiative of North Texas continues to be successful in obtaining asylum for our clients despite the obstacles facing us in the Dallas immigration courts. But these numbers demonstrate how truly challenging the work is here.
CHRISTINE MANSOUR, APPELLATE & ADVOCACY DIRECTOR
 TRAC is a data gathering, research and distribution organization at Syracuse University. It collects and studies records from different government agencies and provides comprehensive information in areas such as immigration, including statistics like the number of total cases by location, case results and types of cases “The purpose of TRAC is to provide the American people — and institutions of oversight such as Congress, news organizations, public interest groups, businesses, scholars and lawyers — with comprehensive information about staffing, spending, and enforcement activities of the federal government.” http://trac.syr.edu/aboutTRACgeneral.html
 See, e.g., http://trac.syr.edu/immigration/reports/judgereports/00036DAL/index.html (“In the Dallas Immigration Court . . . judges denied asylum 78.9 percent of the time.”). All the reports on the Dallas judges include this language.
 Id. (“nationally during this same period, immigration court judges denied 49.8 percent of asylum claims.”). According to the Executive Office for Immigration Review, the office in the Department of Justice that oversees the Immigration Courts, the grant rate from FY2011-FY2015 averaged 51.6%, although it has trended downwards over the past two years to under 50 percent. https://www.justice.gov/eoir/page/file/fysb15/download, p.K1. The EOIR report does not include FY2016.
 The TRAC report only includes Immigration Judges who decided at least 100 asylum cases between FY 2011 and FY2016. Thus, it does not include three immigration judges currently working in Dallas. Judge James Nugent has been in Dallas for several years but does not have enough asylum cases on his docket for his numbers to be reported by TRAC. Judges Daniel Weiss and Xiomara Davis-Gumbs are new judges who just started this year and have not decided enough cases to be included in the study.
 See http://trac.syr.edu/immigration/reports/judgereports/00147NYC/index.html, http://trac.syr.edu/immigration/reports/judgereports/00088SFR/index.html, http://trac.syr.edu/immigration/reports/judgereports/00016BOS/index.html, http://trac.syr.edu/immigration/reports/judgereports/00001WAS/index.html, http://trac.syr.edu/immigration/reports/judgereports/00416HOU/index.html, http://trac.syr.edu/immigration/reports/judgereports/00061SNA/index.html.
 Transaction Records Access Clearinghouse, “Asylum Outcome Increasingly Depends on Judge Assigned,” (2016) http://trac.syr.edu/immigration/reports/447/?utm_source=Recent%20Postings%20Alert&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=RP%20Daily; Jaya Ramji-Nogales, Andrew I. Schoenholtz and Philip G. Schrag, “Refugee Roulette: Disparities in Asylum Adjudication,” 60 Stanford L. Rev. 295 (2007).