Judge Marsha K. Nettles

FY 2013 - 2018, Detroit Immigration Court

Judge Nettles was appointed as an Immigration Judge in February 2005. She received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Michigan State University in 1985, and a Juris Doctorate from the University of Detroit, Mercy School of Law, in 1988. Prior to her appointment as an Immigration Judge, Judge Nettles served as chief counsel for the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Detroit, from March 2003 to February 2005. From February 2004 to May 2004, she served as acting chief of the National Security Law Division for ICE, Office of the Principal Legal Advisor, in Washington, DC. Judge Nettles worked as district counsel from September 2001 to March 2003, and as assistant district counsel from April 1997 to September 2001, both for the former Immigration and Naturalization Service in Detroit. She is a member of the State Bar of Michigan.

Deciding Asylum Cases

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Figure 1: Percent of Asylum Matters Denied

Detailed data on Judge Nettles decisions were examined for the period covering fiscal years 2013 through 2018. During this period, Judge Nettles is recorded as deciding 119 asylum claims on their merits. Of these, she granted 23, gave no conditional grants, and denied 96. Converted to percentage terms, Nettles denied 80.7 percent and granted (including conditional grants) 19.3 percent. Figure 1 provides a comparison of Judge Nettles's denial rate fiscal year-by-year over this recent period. (Rates for years with less than 25 decisions are not shown.)

Nationwide Comparisons

Compared to Judge Nettles's denial rate of 80.7 percent, nationally during this same period, immigration court judges denied 57.6 percent of asylum claims. In the Detroit Immigration Court where Judge Nettles was based, judges there denied asylum 80.9 percent of the time. See Figure 2.

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Figure 2: Comparing Denial Rates (percents)

Judge Nettles can also be ranked compared to each of the 347 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 347 - where 1 represented the highest denial percent and 347 represented the lowest - Judge Nettles here receives a rank of 130. That is 129 judges denied asylum at higher rates, and 217 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 (91%) of them are denied asylum. In contrast, a significantly higher proportion of represented asylum seekers are successful. In the case of Judge Nettles, 30.3% were not represented by an attorney. See Figure 3. For the nation as a whole, about 20% 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 Nettles, the largest group of asylum seekers appearing before her came from Iraq. Individuals from this nation made up 16 % of her caseload. Other nationalities in descending order of frequency appearing before Judge Nettles were: Guatemala (13.4 %), Honduras (12.6%), El Salvador (8.4%), Albania (5%). 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 (18.5%), El Salvador (14.7%), Mexico (12.0%), Honduras (10.9%), Guatemala (10.3%), India (3.2%), Haiti (2.1%), Nepal (1.8%), Eritrea (1.3%), Ethiopia (1.3%), Somalia (1.2%), Cameroon (1.0%), Bangladesh (1.0%).

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