While Attorney General Jeff Sessions is raising the asylum eligibility bar, the fates of hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers still rest in the hands of 334 immigration judges in 60 courts across the nation.
The odds of winning asylum — or receiving a deportation order — seems to depend on who hears the case and where, as well as what country the applicant is from. According to Reuters, Charlotte, North Carolina, deports 84 percent of immigrants who come to court. That number jumps to 89 percent in Atlanta. But in San Francisco, the deportation order rate is only 36 percent. In New York City? Only 24 percent. Immigrant rights advocates have long argued that this disparity between courts proves how arbitrary the system is.
But the head of the union that represents immigration judges told Newsy that drawing conclusions from those numbers is misleading and simplistic.
"Judges are not given the exact same combination of cases. So it's kind of like trying to compare apples and oranges. You can't do that — each case is really fundamentally different," said Ashley Tabaddor, the president of the National Association of Immigration Judges. "I keep coming back and saying the judge has to make a decision based on the facts of the case, based on the law of the case."
"From our perspective, we look to see, 'Is there a reason to question whether that decision or whether that judge mishandled that case?' So if it turns out that a particular case was incorrectly decided, the parties can take up an appeal and, you know, get it reversed. So unless and until you can really demonstrate that there's been an error made, then I'm not comfortable with drawing any sort of conclusion about any particular geographic location or judges," she added.
Besides where and by whom a case is heard, asylum outcomes can vary based on other factors, like whether someone is a convicted criminal when they apply or whether they have a lawyer. To get a better sense of how the asylum system truly works, Tabaddor welcomes anyone to observe her court and those of her colleagues.
"A lot of the misconception is washed away when you come in and you see the challenges, as well as what the judges are doing every day for the public, and how they are delivering and protecting our American judicial system," Tabaddor said.