Published Oct 19, 2023
Attorney General Eric Holder appointed Judge Wagner in October 2010. Judge Wagner received a bachelor of science degree in 1993 from Hampton University, a juris doctorate in 1997 from Southern University Law Center and a master of law degree in 1999 from Georgetown University Law Center. From 2003 to October 2010, he served with the Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Office of the Principal Legal Advisor, in various capacities, including chief counsel, Honolulu, Hawaii, from 2008 to 2010, deputy chief counsel, New Orleans, La., from 2006 to 2010, and assistant chief counsel, San Antonio, Texas, from 2003 to 2006. From 2002 to 2003, Judge Wagner served as an assistant attorney general for the State of Louisiana, Department of Justice, Baton Rouge. From February 2002 to June 2002, he served as senior attorney, Legal Affairs Division, Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality. From 1998 to 2001, Judge Wagner served as an officer in the U.S. Army, Office of the Staff Judge Advocate, Honolulu, Hawaii. In that capacity, he was the labor and employment attorney from 1998 to 2000 and the environmental law attorney from 2000 to 2001. He was also appointed as a special assistant U.S. attorney, Department of Justice, U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Hawaii, from 1998 to 2000. Judge Wagner is a member of the Louisiana State Bar and the State Bar of Texas.
Detailed data on decisions by Judge Wagner were examined for the period covering fiscal years 2018 through 2023. During this period, court records show that Judge Wagner decided 597 asylum claims on their merits. Of these, he granted asylum for 409, granted 8 other types of relief, and denied relief to 180. Converted to percentage terms, Wagner denied 30.2 percent and granted 69.8 percent of asylum cases (including forms of relief other than asylum).
Figure 1 provides a comparison of Judge Wagner's denial rate each fiscal year over this recent period. (Rates for years with less than 25 decisions are not shown.)
Compared to Judge Wagner's denial rate of 30.2 percent, Immigration Court judges across the country denied 60.6 percent of asylum claims during this same period. Judges at the Honolulu Immigration Court where Judge Wagner decided these cases denied asylum 43.4 percent of the time. See Figure 2.
Judge Wagner'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 Wagner, 8.4% 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 Wagner came from China. Individuals from this country made up 74.0% of his caseload. Other nationalities in descending order of frequency appearing before Judge Wagner were: Honduras (4.0%), Guatemala (3.7%), Mexico (3.0%), Brazil (1.8%). 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 (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%).