Published Oct 26, 2022
Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch appointed Samuel B. Cole to begin hearing cases in August 2016. Judge Cole earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1995 from Rice University and a Juris Doctor in 1998 from the Harvard Law School. From 2003 to July 2016, he served as an assistant U.S. attorney, U.S. Attorney’s Office, Department of Justice, in Chicago. From 1999 through 2003, he served as an associate attorney for McDermott, Will & Emery, in Chicago. Judge Cole is a member of the Illinois State Bar.
Detailed data on decisions by Judge Cole were examined for the period covering fiscal years 2017 through 2022. During this period, court records show that Judge Cole decided 501 asylum claims on their merits. Of these, he granted asylum for 266, granted 11 other types of relief, and denied relief to 224. Converted to percentage terms, Cole denied 44.7 percent and granted 55.3 percent of asylum cases (including forms of relief other than asylum).
Figure 1 provides a comparison of Judge Cole's denial rate each fiscal year over this recent period. (Rates for years with less than 25 decisions are not shown.)
Compared to Judge Cole's denial rate of 44.7 percent, Immigration Court judges across the country denied 63.8 percent of asylum claims during this same period. Judges at the Chicago Immigration Court where Judge Cole decided these cases denied asylum 49.1 percent of the time. See Figure 2.
Judge Cole's asylum grant and denial rates are compared with other judges serving on the same court in this table. Note that when an Immigration Judge serves on more than one court during the same period, separate Immigration Judge reports are created for any Court in which the judge rendered at least 100 asylum decisions.
Although denial rates are shaped by each Judge's judicial philosophy, denial rates are also shaped by other factors, such as the types of cases on the Judge's docket, the detained status of immigrant respondents, current immigration policies, and other factors beyond an individual Judge's control. For example, TRAC has previously found that legal representation and the nationality of the asylum seeker are just two factors that appear to impact asylum decision outcomes.
The composition of cases may differ significantly between Immigration Courts in the country. Within a single Court when cases are randomly assigned to judges sitting on that Court, each Judge should have roughly a similar composition of cases given a sufficient number of asylum cases. Then variations in asylum decisions among Judges on the same Immigration Court would appear to reflect, at least in part, the judicial philosophy that the Judge brings to the bench. However, if judges within a Court are assigned to specialized dockets or hearing locations, then case compositions are likely to continue to differ and can contribute to differences in asylum denial rates.
When asylum seekers are not represented by an attorney, almost all of them (83%) are denied asylum. In contrast, a significantly higher proportion of represented asylum seekers are successful. In the case of Judge Cole, 52.9% were not represented by an attorney. See Figure 3. For the nation as a whole, about 16.7% 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.
The largest group of asylum seekers appearing before Judge Cole came from Cuba. Individuals from this country made up 31.5% of his caseload. Other nationalities in descending order of frequency appearing before Judge Cole were: Mexico (13.4%), Honduras (8.2%), Guatemala (5.4%), Venezuela (4.0%). See Figure 4.
In the nation as a whole during this same period, major nationalities of asylum seekers, in descending order of frequency, were El Salvador (18.2%), Guatemala (16.0%), Honduras (14.6%), Mexico (10.5%), China (7.5%), India (4.5%), Cuba (2.5%), Venezuela (2.1%), Ecuador (2.1%), Nicaragua (1.9%), Haiti (1.7%), Cameroon (1.5%), Nepal (1.2%).