Seeking asylum in the U.S. has a low chance of success, and intangible circumstances can push a given case to one outcome or the other, making it hard to draw a direct line from any given factor to the resulting decision, whether it’s the lawyer’s level of experience with asylum cases or the judge’s mood on the hearing day. But widely varied rates of grants and denials in asylum cases across U.S. immigration courts suggest location has a strong influence on a case’s outcome.
The political climate in a particular state comes to mind as a seemingly obvious influence on an asylum case’s outcome: An immigration judge in a liberal state like California might be expected to grant asylum in cases more often compared to a judge in a conservative state in the deep South. But geography can also influence one circumstance definitely linked to an asylum case’s outcome: access to legal aid.
Data shows legal representation increases an asylum case’s chance of success, and geography in turn plays a role in legal aid access. Austin Kocher, a faculty fellow at the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse think tank at Syracuse University, said a particular area’s capacity for providing resources matters, such as the presence of a legal aid center or the availability of lawyers who speak Spanish or other foreign languages.
“We know that attorneys make a difference,” Kocher said. “So then the next question is, what determines access to an attorney? One important factor is the infrastructure that’s around. In Los Angeles and New York, it’s no surprise that they have high grant rates.”
According to data from TRAC, in fiscal year 2019, 16% of asylum applicants without attorneys had their applications granted or received another type of relief from deportation. But 33% of applicants who did have an attorney were granted asylum or another type of relief during the same period.