Judge Lisa Dornell

FY 2006 - 2011, Baltimore Immigration Court

Judge Dornell was appointed as an Immigration Judge in April 1995. She received a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1983 from the University of Vermont, and a Juris Doctorate in 1986 from the University of Austin School of Law. From 1990 to 1995, Judge Dornell worked at the Office of Immigration Litigation. From 1986 to 1990, she served as an assistant general counsel and general attorney former INS. She is a member of both the Texas and District of Columbia Bars.

Deciding Asylum Cases

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Figure 1: Percent of Asylum Matters Denied

Detailed data on Judge Dornell decisions were examined for the period covering fiscal years 2006 through 2011 During this period, Judge Dornell is recorded as deciding 921 asylum claims on their merits. Of these, she granted 456, gave no conditional grants, and denied 464. Converted to percentage terms, Dornell denied 50.5 percent and granted (including conditional grants) 49.5 percent. Figure 1 provides a comparison of Judge Dornell's denial rate fiscal year-by-year over this recent period.

Nationwide Comparisons

Compared to Judge Dornell's denial rate of 50.5 percent, nationally during this same period, immigration court judges denied 53.2 percent of asylum claims. In the Baltimore Immigration Court where Judge Dornell was based, judges there denied asylum 50 percent of the time. See Figure 2.

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Figure 2: Comparing Denial Rates (percents)

Judge Dornell can also be ranked compared to each of the 256 individual immigration judges serving during this period who rendered at least one hundred decisions in a city's immigration court. If judges were ranked from 1 to 256 - where 1 represented the highest denial percent and 256 represented the lowest - Judge Dornell here receives a rank of 174. That is 173 judges denied asylum at higher rates, and 82 denied asylum at the same rate or less often. Ranks are tallied separately for each immigration court. Should a judge serve on more than one court during this period, separate ranks would be assigned in any court that the judge rendered at least 100 asylum decisions in.

Why Do Denial Rates Vary Among Judges?

Denial rates reflect in part the differing composition of cases assigned to different immigration judges. For example, being represented in court and the nationality of the asylum seeker appear to often impact decision outcome. Decisions also appear to reflect in part the personal perspective that the judge brings to the bench.

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Figure 3: Asylum Seeker Had Representation

If an asylum seeker is not represented by an attorney, almost all (87%) of them are denied asylum. In contrast, a significantly higher proportion of represented asylum seekers are successful. In the case of Judge Dornell, 10% were not represented by an attorney. See Figure 3. For the nation as a whole, about 11.1% of asylum seekers are not represented.


Asylum seekers are a diverse group. Over one hundred different nationalities had at least one hundred individuals claiming asylum decided during this period. As might be expected, immigration courts located in different parts of the country tend to have proportionately larger shares from some countries than from others. And, given the required legal grounds for a successful asylum claim, asylum seekers from some nations tend to be more successful than others.

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Figure 4: Asylum Decisions by Nationality

For Judge Dornell, the largest group of asylum seekers appearing before her came from Cameroon. Individuals from this nation made up 22.4 % of her caseload. Other nationalities in descending order of frequency appearing before Judge Dornell were: Ethiopia (19.1 %), China (5.6%), Togo (5.6%), El Salvador (3.7%). See Figure 4.

In the nation as a whole during this same period, major nationalities of asylum seekers, in descending order of frequency, were China (23.3%), Haiti (8.4%), El Salvador (5.9%), Colombia (5.5%), Guatemala (5.3%), Indonesia (2.9%), India (2.6%), Venezuela (2.5%), Ethiopia (2.1%), Albania (2%), Honduras (2%), Mexico (2%), Guinea (1.6%).

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