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Judge Zsa Zsa DePaolo
FY 2018 - 2023, Otay Mesa Immigration Court

Published Oct 19, 2023

Judge DePaolo was appointed as an Immigration Judge in November 1995. She has served as an Immigration Judge at the Immigration Court in San Diego, California, and has been assigned to the East Mesa court in San Diego since June 1998. Judge DePaolo received a Bachelor of Arts degree from The Evergreen State College in 1978, and a Juris Doctorate from Seattle University in 1981. From 1988 to 1995, she served as a trial attorney with the former Immigration and Naturalization Service in Seattle, Washington. From 1986 to 1988, Judge DePaolo worked as a trial attorney for the Archdiocese of Seattle, Hispanic Legal Aid Program. During the 1985 to 1986 legislative session, she served as a staff attorney with the statute law committee of the Washington State Legislature, in Olympia, Washington. From 1981 to 1985, she served as a senior trial attorney with the Washington Appellate Defender Association, in Seattle, Washington. Judge DePaolo is a member of the Washington Bar.

Deciding Asylum Cases

Detailed data on decisions by Judge DePaolo were examined for the period covering fiscal years 2018 through 2023. During this period, court records show that Judge DePaolo decided 116 asylum claims on their merits. Of these, she granted asylum for 30, granted 2 other types of relief, and denied relief to 84. Converted to percentage terms, DePaolo denied 72.4 percent and granted 27.6 percent of asylum cases (including forms of relief other than asylum).

Figure 1 provides a comparison of Judge DePaolo'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 DePaolo's denial rate of 72.4 percent, Immigration Court judges across the country denied 60.6 percent of asylum claims during this same period. Judges at the Otay Mesa Immigration Court where Judge DePaolo decided these cases denied asylum 69 percent of the time. See Figure 2.

Judge DePaolo'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 DePaolo, 45.7% 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 DePaolo came from Mexico. Individuals from this country made up 35.3% of her caseload. Other nationalities in descending order of frequency appearing before Judge DePaolo were: El Salvador (12.9%), Guatemala (7.8%), Honduras (6.9%), Eritrea (5.2%). 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.