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Judge Elizabeth A. Kessler
FY 2018 - 2023, Baltimore Immigration Court

Published Oct 19, 2023

Judge Kessler was appointed as an Immigration Judge in January 2006. She received a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1987 from Columbia University; a Master of Arts degree in International Relations 1992 from Yale Graduate School ; and a Juris Doctorate in 1992 from Yale Law School. From November 2003 to January 2006, Judge Kessler served as a deputy associate attorney general at the Department of Justice (DOJ) in Washington, DC. She previously served as a deputy general counsel for the U.S. Department of Energy. Judge Kessler served as general counsel with the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on Immigration, in Washington, DC, from January 1997 to 1999, and as counsel on the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee from January 1995 to January 1979. From 1993 to 1994, she was an attorney with the Civil Division, Appellate staff, at DOJ, and a Bristow Fellow with the Office of the Solicitor General Judge Kessler served as a law clerk with Judge Richard J. Cardamone, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, from 1992 to 1993. She is a member of both the Maryland and District of Columbia Bars.

Deciding Asylum Cases

Detailed data on decisions by Judge Kessler were examined for the period covering fiscal years 2018 through 2023. During this period, court records show that Judge Kessler decided 637 asylum claims on their merits. Of these, she granted asylum for 293, granted 14 other types of relief, and denied relief to 330. Converted to percentage terms, Kessler denied 51.8 percent and granted 48.2 percent of asylum cases (including forms of relief other than asylum).

Figure 1 provides a comparison of Judge Kessler's denial rate each fiscal year over this recent period. (Rates for years with less than 25 decisions are not shown.)

Figure 1: Percent of Asylum Matters Denied

Nationwide Comparisons

Compared to Judge Kessler's denial rate of 51.8 percent, Immigration Court judges across the country denied 60.6 percent of asylum claims during this same period. Judges at the Baltimore Immigration Court where Judge Kessler decided these cases denied asylum 51.4 percent of the time. See Figure 2.

Judge Kessler'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.

Figure 2: Comparing Denial Rates (percents)

Why Do Denial Rates Vary Among Judges?

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 (80%) are denied asylum. In contrast, a significantly higher proportion of represented asylum seekers are successful. In the case of Judge Kessler, 27% were not represented by an attorney. See Figure 3. For the nation as a whole, about 15.7% of asylum seekers are not represented.

Figure 3: Asylum Seeker Had Representation


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 Kessler came from El Salvador. Individuals from this country made up 36.3% of her caseload. Other nationalities in descending order of frequency appearing before Judge Kessler were: Guatemala (18.1%), Honduras (16.6%), Nicaragua (6.6%), Cuba (2.8%). 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 (16.6%), Guatemala (15.1%), Honduras (13.8%), Mexico (9.2%), China (6.8%), India (5.1%), Venezuela (3.2%), Ecuador (3.1%), Cuba (2.4%), Nicaragua (2.3%), Brazil (2.0%), Colombia (1.4%), Cameroon (1.4%).

Figure 4: Asylum Decisions by Nationality
TRAC is a nonpartisan, nonprofit data research center affiliated with the Newhouse School of Public Communications and the Whitman School of Management, both at Syracuse University. For more information, to subscribe, or to donate, contact trac@syr.edu or call 315-443-3563.