Published Oct 19, 2023
Judge Burkhart was appointed as an Immigration Judge in September 1994. She received an undergraduate degree from the University of Pittsburgh in 1980, and a Juris Doctorate from the University of Texas in 1983. Judge Burkhart worked as a staff attorney for Texas Rural Legal Aid, Inc., in Edinburg, Texas, from 1987 to 1994. She also worked as executive director from 1985 to 1987 for the Central American Refugee Center in Houston. From 1984 to 1985, she was employed as a staff attorney for the Centro Para Inmigrantes de Texas (now Texas Center for Immigrant Legal Assistance), also in Houston. Judge Burkhart worked as a paralegal and then staff attorney for Proyecto Livertad in Harlingen from 1983 to 1984. She is a member of the Texas Bar.
Detailed data on decisions by Judge Burkhart were examined for the period covering fiscal years 2018 through 2023. During this period, court records show that Judge Burkhart decided 182 asylum claims on their merits. Of these, she granted asylum for 104, granted 36 other types of relief, and denied relief to 42. Converted to percentage terms, Burkhart denied 23.1 percent and granted 76.9 percent of asylum cases (including forms of relief other than asylum).
Figure 1 provides a comparison of Judge Burkhart's denial rate each fiscal year over this recent period. (Rates for years with less than 25 decisions are not shown.)
Compared to Judge Burkhart's denial rate of 23.1 percent, Immigration Court judges across the country denied 60.6 percent of asylum claims during this same period. Judges at the San Antonio Immigration Court where Judge Burkhart decided these cases denied asylum 52.3 percent of the time. See Figure 2.
Judge Burkhart'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 (80%) are denied asylum. In contrast, a significantly higher proportion of represented asylum seekers are successful. In the case of Judge Burkhart, 14.8% were not represented by an attorney. See Figure 3. For the nation as a whole, about 15.7% 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 Burkhart came from Honduras. Individuals from this country made up 26.9% of her caseload. Other nationalities in descending order of frequency appearing before Judge Burkhart were: El Salvador (14.3%), Mexico (12.6%), Nepal (9.9%), Guatemala (8.8%). 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%).