I’ve heard that my Immigration Judge is tough on asylum cases — what can I do?

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Question:

I’m scheduled for an Immigration Court hearing on my asylum case in a few weeks, and everyone says that the judge handling my case if famous for denying everyone. He sure seemed grumpy in the Master Calendar hearing. How can I find out more about him, and what can I do about this?

Answer:

First, don’t panic. Even a tough judge – assuming the rumors are true --  can’t get away with denying every single asylum case he sees. If your case is well presented and convincing, it may be one of the few that this judge grants.

However, it is true that there is a wide disparity in the percentage of asylum cases that different Immigration Judges (IJs) grant. While the average number of cases granted by IJs was, as of 2012, about 56%, some judges grant far more than this, and some far less. This has led many commentators to worry that the IJs are applying the law inconsistently or based on bias.

To find out more about your judge, check out Syracuse University’s database of immigration judges. It lets you input your city and the name of your judge, and see report on him (or her). This report includes the judge's background and the percentage of asylum cases that he or she has granted in given years, and how this compares to other judges across the United States.

If you don’t like what you see on your judge, you unfortunately cannot do much to change that. You cannot request a different judge within the same court. As an extreme measure, you could move to another state or another court jurisdiction, but you would probably need to find a new lawyer. Be sure your lawyer advises the Immigration Court of your new address and asks for what’s called a “change of venue.”

Short of moving, you want to make sure your case is as well-presented as possible. The purpose is not only so that you try to convince this judge of the merits of your asylum case, but so that you also build a record for appeal. Noncitizens have many opportunities to appeal their asylum cases, as described in “How Many Times You Can Appeal an Asylum Denial.” But for the most part, appeals boards and courts don’t get to hear the whole case all over again. They just look at the evidence and the transcript before the IJ and see whether the IJ committed any errors.

So, for instance, if you were just to give up and present only a few minutes of testimony, thinking, “This is hopeless,” the case on appeal would be very thin, and its chances of it being overturned in your favor low. If the IJ is difficult to deal with in person, try not to get angry or shut down – just tell yourself, “I’m building a record for appeal,” and keep explaining your asylum claim to the best of your abilities.

To maximize your chances of success, statistics also show that it’s best to hire an immigration attorney.

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