About the Data

The judge-by-judge data cited in this report have been collected over the years by the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), the Justice Department unit responsible for operating a system of administrative courts that deal with immigration matters.

Frederick N. Tulsky, now an investigative reporter with the San Jose Mercury News, was the first person outside the government to obtain this material as a result of a 1997 request to the EOIR under the Freedom of information Act (FOIA). At that time, he was a fellow with the Alicia Patterson Foundation. The agency at first denied Tulsky's request. As a result of an appeal, however, the agency relented to the extent that it provided Tulsky with paper records of the thousands of decisions rather than the electronic format that he had requested.

On October 18, 2000 -- with extensive assistance from Dwight Morris, a well- known data consultant -- Tulsky's extensive and carefully documented investigative article was published by the Mercury News. The article -- based on an analysis of 176,465 cases handled by the immigration judges from 1995 though most of 1999 -- found a huge disparity in how these cases were being decided by the judges. The article's front-page headline said in part that "Asylum Seekers Face Capricious Legal System" in which "Some Judges Grant Asylum in Only 1 in 20 Cases, Others in One in Every 2."

On August 3, 2004, an immigration rights group named Asylumlaw.org, followed up on Tulsky's 1997 request, asking the EOIR, again under the FOIA, for more recent data. As a result Asylymlaw.org obtained records in electronic format which it has made accessible on its web site. The group also has shared the information with TRAC and graciously consented to our using it.

TRAC has augmented these materials with additional information -- some from requests to EOIR, and some gathered through other means. Counts based upon the case-by-case data have been cross-checked with figures from published EOIR reports to verify their completeness. TRAC has obtained detailed information regarding the agency's data base and its recording policies and coding practices. TRAC also has successfully sought a range of different sorts of contextual information including the biographies of the individual judges -- when appointed, former places of employment, law schools, etc. -- and various published and unpublished statistical reports and studies. Interviews about the court's procedures have been conducted with selected immigration attorneys and current and former government officials.