After asylum seekers land on U.S. soil, they see one of nearly 300 immigration judges across the nation who decide their fate.
In Baltimore, recent asylum seekers have stood before one of six judges, who have widely diverging rates of granting asylum.
They could have come before a judge who awarded asylum to more than nine of every 10 people. Or, they could have found themselves before one who extended asylum to fewer than four of every 10.
Immigration Judge Denise N. Slavin granted asylum to 94 percent of the 324 people she saw between fiscal year 2012 and 2017, whereas Judge Elizabeth A. Kessler gave asylum to 39 percent of the 511 applicants she saw, according to a new report by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a nonprofit data research center based at Syracuse University in New York.
The rates of the other four judges fell somewhere in between Slavin and Kessler.
Nationally, over the same time period, immigration judges granted 50 percent of asylum claims, according to TRAC. In Baltimore’s Immigration Court, judges granted claims 54 percent of the time.
There are several factors that may explain the diverging acceptance rates.
One of the most important factors is whether an asylum seeker had legal counsel. If they didn’t, regardless of nationality, almost all — 91 percent — were rejected. Another important factor may be nationality, TRAC found.
Judge Slavin, who had the highest rate of granting asylum, had the highest percentage of applicants represented by lawyers (96 percent) and the largest group of applicants who came from Ethiopia, a country whose residents have had some of the highest rates of acceptance for asylum in the country. They made up a fifth of the applicants she saw. The next largest group came from El Salvador, which made up 15 percent.
Judge Kessler had a lower percentage of applicants represented by lawyers (73 percent) and the largest group of applicants before her came from El Salvador, a country that has had some of the lowest rates of acceptance for asylum in the country. They made up a quarter of the applicants she saw. The next largest group came from Ethiopia, which made up 10 percent.
U.S. Department of Justice spokesperson Kathryn Mattingly said the department does not comment on third party reports, but that it’s important to note that each asylum case is unique and typically includes complex legal and factual issues.