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Judge Paul A. Defonzo
FY 2017 - 2022, Seattle Immigration Court

Published Oct 26, 2022

Judge Defonzo was appointed as an Immigration Judge in March 1997. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1978 from Fordham University, and a Juris Doctorate in 1981 from Brooklyn Law School. Judge Defonzo was in private practice in Brooklyn, New York, from 1996 to 1997. From 1982 to 1995, he worked as an associate attorney with Blecher, Mendel and Fedele. Judge Defonzo is a member of the New York Bar.

Deciding Asylum Cases

Detailed data on decisions by Judge Defonzo were examined for the period covering fiscal years 2017 through 2022. During this period, court records show that Judge Defonzo decided 395 asylum claims on their merits. Of these, he granted asylum for 163, granted 15 other types of relief, and denied relief to 217. Converted to percentage terms, Defonzo denied 54.9 percent and granted 45.1 percent of asylum cases (including forms of relief other than asylum).

Figure 1 provides a comparison of Judge Defonzo'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 Defonzo's denial rate of 54.9 percent, Immigration Court judges across the country denied 63.8 percent of asylum claims during this same period. Judges at the Seattle Immigration Court where Judge Defonzo decided these cases denied asylum 71.3 percent of the time. See Figure 2.

Judge Defonzo'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 (83%) are denied asylum. In contrast, a significantly higher proportion of represented asylum seekers are successful. In the case of Judge Defonzo, 15.9% were not represented by an attorney. See Figure 3. For the nation as a whole, about 16.7% of asylum seekers are not represented.

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 Defonzo came from Mexico. Individuals from this country made up 43.0% of his caseload. Other nationalities in descending order of frequency appearing before Judge Defonzo were: Guatemala (13.2%), El Salvador (10.9%), India (10.1%), Honduras (5.8%). 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 (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%).

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.