Immigration Judges and U.S. Asylum Policy

Immigration Judges and U.S. Asylum Policy

Immigration Judges and U.S. Asylum Policy

Immigration Judges and U.S. Asylum Policy

Synopsis

Although there are legal norms to secure the uniform treatment of asylum claims in the United States, anecdotal and empirical evidence suggest that strategic and economic interests also influence asylum outcomes. Previous research has demonstrated considerable variation in how immigration judges decide seemingly similar cases, which implies a host of legal concerns--not the least of which is whether judicial bias is more determinative of the decision to admit those fleeing persecution to the United States than is the merit of the claim. These disparities also raise important policy considerations about how to fix what many perceive to be a broken adjudication system.

With theoretical sophistication and empirical rigor, Immigration Judges and U.S. Asylum Policy investigates more than 500,000 asylum cases that were decided by U.S. immigration judges between 1990 and 2010. The authors find that judges treat certain facts about an asylum applicant more objectively than others: facts determined to be legally relevant tend to be treated similarly by judges of different political ideologies, while facts considered extralegal are treated subjectively. Furthermore, the authors examine how local economic and political conditions as well as congressional reforms have affected outcomes in asylum cases, concluding with a series of policy recommendations aimed at improving the quality of immigration law decision making rather than trying to reduce disparities between decision makers.

Excerpt

In this book we seek to enhance understandings of why immigration judges (IJs) do what they do. We perceive IJs as the linchpin of U.S. asylum policy, and we assert in these pages that understanding how IJs decide asylum cases is the best place to begin trying to grasp asylum policy in the United States. In addition, the IJs offer an interesting case study from the perspective of scholars of judicial behavior because they decide cases in highly ideological fashion even though they are analogous to trial judges, a situation that is not often depicted in the literature. We attempt to move beyond the asylum literature’s focus on disparities in grant rates as the primary criticism of the U.S. asylum process. Instead we focus on theoretical constructs—largely adapted from theories of judicial decision making—that allow us to better understand the conditional nature of IJ decision making. This approach leaves us with the overriding sense that eliminating disparities in IJ adjudication is akin to tilting at windmills—the causes of variation are too deeply embedded and the contexts in which decisions are made are too varied and influential. Instead, we implicitly focus on the quality of IJ decisions—a focus we make explicit in our final chapter, where we offer several concrete suggestions for improving the quality of decision making by IJs.

U.S. asylum policy represents a unique intersection of foreign and domestic policy. The implementation and adjudication of asylum cases triggers a wide range of potentially conflicting interests including international human rights norms, national security issues, geopolitical interests, border and immigration control, and the national and state economies. Asylum adjudications are enmeshed in a complicated web of domestic immigration law, U.S. treaty obligations, and federal jurisprudence. Recently, significant changes have been made in U.S. asylum law in response the terrorist attacks on the United States and in response to fears of economic migrants flooding . . .

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