Judge Dana Leigh Marks

FY 2014 - 2019, San Francisco Immigration Court

Judge Marks was appointed as an Immigration Judge in January 1987. She received an undergraduate degree from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1974, and a Juris Doctorate from the University of California, Hastings College of Law, in 1977. From 1978 to 1986, she was an attorney associate/partner for Simmons & Ungar in San Francisco. From 1976 to 1978, she worked as a law clerk/associate attorney for Stiller and Nervo, also in San Francisco. Judge Marks has served as a commissioner on the State Bar of California's Board of Legal Specialization, Immigration and Nationality Law Advisory Commission since 1994. She has been an adjunct professor at the University of San Francisco School of Law since 1992, and taught immigration law at various San Francisco Bay Area law schools for five years before that. Judge Marks is a member of the California Bar.

Deciding Asylum Cases

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Figure 1: Percent of Asylum Matters Denied

Detailed data on Judge Marks decisions were examined for the period covering fiscal years 2014 through 2019. During this period, Judge Marks is recorded as deciding 721 asylum claims on their merits. Of these, she granted 645, gave no conditional grants, and denied 76. Converted to percentage terms, Marks denied 10.5 percent and granted (including conditional grants) 89.5 percent. Figure 1 provides a comparison of Judge Marks's denial rate fiscal year-by-year over this recent period.

Nationwide Comparisons

Compared to Judge Marks's denial rate of 10.5 percent, nationally during this same period, immigration court judges denied 63.1 percent of asylum claims. In the San Francisco Immigration Court where Judge Marks was based, judges there denied asylum 30.6 percent of the time. See Figure 2.

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Figure 2: Comparing Denial Rates (percents)

Judge Marks can also be ranked compared to each of the 456 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 456 - where 1 represented the highest denial percent and 456 represented the lowest - Judge Marks here receives a rank of 445. That is 444 judges denied asylum at higher rates, and 11 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 (89%) of them are denied asylum. In contrast, a significantly higher proportion of represented asylum seekers are successful. In the case of Judge Marks, 5.1% were not represented by an attorney. See Figure 3. For the nation as a whole, about 19% 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 Marks, the largest group of asylum seekers appearing before her came from Guatemala. Individuals from this nation made up 21.9 % of her caseload. Other nationalities in descending order of frequency appearing before Judge Marks were: Mexico (16.9 %), El Salvador (16.8%), India (16.4%), Honduras (6.2%). 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 (17.3%), China (13.5%), Honduras (13.3%), Guatemala (13.0%), Mexico (12.1%), India (3.8%), Haiti (2.1%), Nepal (1.6%), Cuba (1.2%), Eritrea (1.1%), Cameroon (1.1%), Bangladesh (1.0%), Ecuador (0.9%).

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