Judge Jonathan D. Pelletier
FY 2016 - 2021, Atlanta Immigration Court
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 Judge Pelletier decisions were examined for the period covering fiscal years 2016 through 2021. During this period, Judge Pelletier is recorded as deciding 246 asylum claims on their merits. Of these, he granted 21, gave no conditional grants, and denied 225. Converted to percentage terms, Pelletier denied 91.5 percent and granted (including conditional grants) 8.5 percent. Figure 1 provides a comparison of Judge Pelletier's denial rate fiscal year-by-year over this recent period. (Rates for years with less than 25 decisions are not shown.)
Compared to Judge Pelletier's denial rate of 91.5 percent, nationally during this same period, immigration court judges denied 67.6 percent of asylum claims. In the Atlanta Immigration Court where Judge Pelletier was based, judges there denied asylum 96 percent of the time. See Figure 2.
Judge Pelletier can also be ranked compared to each of the 558 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 558 - where 1 represented the highest denial percent and 558 represented the lowest - Judge Pelletier here receives a rank of 106. That is 105 judges denied asylum at higher rates, and 452 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.
If an asylum seeker is not represented by an attorney, almost all (88%) of them are denied asylum. In contrast, a significantly higher proportion of represented asylum seekers are successful. In the case of Judge Pelletier, 15% were not represented by an attorney. See Figure 3. For the nation as a whole, about 18.3% 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.
For Judge Pelletier, the largest group of asylum seekers appearing before him came from Guatemala. Individuals from this nation made up 30.1 % of his caseload. Other nationalities in descending order of frequency appearing before Judge Pelletier were: El Salvador (22.8 %), Honduras (20.3%), Mexico (19.1%), China (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 (18.7%), Guatemala (16.0%), Honduras (15.0%), Mexico (11.8%), China (8.4%), India (3.8%), Cuba (2.7%), Haiti (1.8%), Venezuela (1.6%), Cameroon (1.5%), Nicaragua (1.2%), Nepal (1.2%), Ecuador (1.1%).
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