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Judge Jonathan D. Pelletier
FY 2017 - 2022, Atlanta Immigration Court

Published Oct 26, 2022

Jonathan Daniel Pelletier was appointed as an immigration judge in September 2006. He received a bachelor of arts degree in 1974 and a juris doctorate in 1977, both from the University of Georgia. Judge Pelletier also attended the Basic Officer's Course in 1981 and the Advanced Officer's Course in 1985 at the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General School, and the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College in 1989. From March 2003 to October 2006, Judge Pelletier served as the Assistant Chief Counsel for the Department of Homeland Security in Atlanta. From December 1987 to March 2003, he served as an Assistant District Counsel with the former Immigration and Naturalization Service in Atlanta. During this time, from 1990 to 1996, Judge Pelletier served as a Special Assistant U.S. Attorney. Judge Pelletier also served as a Command Judge Advocate, 93rd Signal Battalion, Fort Gordon, Georgia, from 2002 to 2003. He was a Senior Defense Counsel, U.S. Army Trial Defense Service at Fort Jackson, S.C., from 1990 to 1991. He is a member of the Georgia Bar.

Deciding Asylum Cases

Detailed data on decisions by Judge Pelletier were examined for the period covering fiscal years 2017 through 2022. During this period, court records show that Judge Pelletier decided 130 asylum claims on their merits. Of these, he granted asylum for 11, granted 0 other types of relief, and denied relief to 119. Converted to percentage terms, Pelletier denied 91.5 percent and granted 8.5 percent of asylum cases (including forms of relief other than asylum).

Figure 1 provides a comparison of Judge Pelletier'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 Pelletier's denial rate of 91.5 percent, Immigration Court judges across the country denied 63.8 percent of asylum claims during this same period. Judges at the Atlanta Immigration Court where Judge Pelletier decided these cases denied asylum 94.2 percent of the time. See Figure 2.

Judge Pelletier'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 Pelletier, 20% 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 Pelletier came from El Salvador. Individuals from this country made up 26.2% of his caseload. Other nationalities in descending order of frequency appearing before Judge Pelletier were: Guatemala (24.6%), Mexico (24.6%), Honduras (15.4%), China (2.3%). 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.