Asylum seekers in the U.S. face broad disparities in the 54 immigration courts, with the outcome of cases influenced by things like the location of the court and the sex and professional background of judges, says a law professors’ study reported by the New York Times. The study analyzes 140,000 decisions by immigration judges, including cases from the 15 countries that have produced the most asylum seekers in recent years, among them China, Haiti, Colombia, Albania, and Russia. The professors compared the results of immigration court cases over more than four years, finding vast differences in the handling of claims with generally comparable factual circumstances. Colombians had an 88 percent chance of winning asylum from one Miami judge and a 5 percent chance from another judge in the same court. “It is very disturbing that these decisions can mean life or death, and they seem to a large extent to be the result of a clerk's random assignment of a case to a particular judge,” said study co-author Prof. Philip Schrag of Georgetown University.
The study found that someone who has fled China in fear of persecution and asks for asylum in immigration court in Orlando, Fl., has 76 percent chance of success, while the same refugee would have a 7 percent chance in Atlanta. A Haitian seeking refuge from political violence is almost twice as likely to succeed in New York as in Miami. The wide discretion exercised by immigration judges can be disheartening to lawyers and disastrous for immigrants facing threats to their lives if they are forced to return home, immigration lawyers said. The study will be posted today by the Social Science Research Network, www.ssrn.com, and published in November in the Stanford Law Review.