Published Oct 19, 2023
Attorney General Eric Holder appointed Judge O'Connor in December 2010. Judge O'Connor received a bachelor of arts degree in 1981 from the University of California, Berkeley, and a juris doctorate in 1984 from Loyola Law School, Los Angeles. From 1999 to December 2010, he was the directing attorney of the Immigrants' and Language Rights Center at Indiana Legal Services Inc. From 1994 to 1999, he was senior attorney for the Legal Aid Society of San Diego, Inc. During that time, Judge O'Connor was a judge pro tem for the San Diego Municipal Court. From 1998 to 1999, he served as an adjunct professor of immigration law in the paralegal program at Southwestern Community College, Chula Vista, Calif. From 1988 to 1994, he was a staff attorney for the Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County, Inc. During that time, from 1993 to 1994, Judge O'Connor was a judge pro tem for the Los Angeles Municipal Court. From 1985 to 1988, he was staff attorney for the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law in Los Angeles. From 1984 to 1985, Judge O'Connor was an associate with Overland, Berke, Wesley, Gits, Randolf & Levanas in Los Angeles. Judge O'Connor is a member of the State Bar of California and the Indiana State Bar.
Detailed data on decisions by Judge O'Connor were examined for the period covering fiscal years 2018 through 2023. During this period, court records show that Judge O'Connor decided 324 asylum claims on their merits. Of these, he granted asylum for 46, granted 6 other types of relief, and denied relief to 272. Converted to percentage terms, O'Connor denied 84.0 percent and granted 16.1 percent of asylum cases (including forms of relief other than asylum).
Figure 1 provides a comparison of Judge O'Connor's denial rate each fiscal year over this recent period. (Rates for years with less than 25 decisions are not shown.)
Compared to Judge O'Connor's denial rate of 84.0 percent, Immigration Court judges across the country denied 60.6 percent of asylum claims during this same period. Judges at the San Diego Immigration Court where Judge O'Connor decided these cases denied asylum 73.4 percent of the time. See Figure 2.
Judge O'Connor'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 O'Connor, 14.8% 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 O'Connor came from Guatemala. Individuals from this country made up 42.0% of his caseload. Other nationalities in descending order of frequency appearing before Judge O'Connor were: Mexico (27.2%), Iraq (4.9%), El Salvador (4.0%), Haiti (2.8%). 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%).