Published Oct 19, 2023
Judge Spencer-Walters was appointed as an immigration judge in March2008. She received a bachelor of arts degree in 1994 from theUniversity of North Florida and a juris doctorate in 1997 from NovaSoutheastern University. From 2000 to March 2008, Judge Spencer-Waltersserved as assistant chief counsel, ICE, DHS, in Phoenix. From 1998 to2000, she worked as assistant district counsel in San Diego. From 1997to 1998, Judge Spencer-Walters served as a judicial law clerk, enteringon duty through the Attorney General?s Honors Program, in the San DiegoImmigration Court. She is a member of the Florida Bar.
Detailed data on decisions by Judge Spencer-Walters were examined for the period covering fiscal years 2018 through 2023. During this period, court records show that Judge Spencer-Walters decided 333 asylum claims on their merits. Of these, she granted asylum for 28, granted 17 other types of relief, and denied relief to 288. Converted to percentage terms, Spencer-Walters denied 86.5 percent and granted 13.5 percent of asylum cases (including forms of relief other than asylum).
Figure 1 provides a comparison of Judge Spencer-Walters's denial rate each fiscal year over this recent period. (Rates for years with less than 25 decisions are not shown.)
Compared to Judge Spencer-Walters's denial rate of 86.5 percent, Immigration Court judges across the country denied 60.6 percent of asylum claims during this same period. Judges at the Phoenix Immigration Court where Judge Spencer-Walters decided these cases denied asylum 79.8 percent of the time. See Figure 2.
Judge Spencer-Walters'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 Spencer-Walters, 15.9% 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 Spencer-Walters came from Mexico. Individuals from this country made up 45.3% of her caseload. Other nationalities in descending order of frequency appearing before Judge Spencer-Walters were: Guatemala (32.7%), Honduras (8.4%), El Salvador (3.6%), Haiti (0.9%). 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%).