Judge Robert L. Powell

FY 2016 - 2021, Los Fresnos Immigration Court

Attorney General Eric Holder appointed Judge Powell in August 2010. Judge Powell received a bachelor of arts degree in 1970 from Tulane University and a juris doctorate in 1973 from St. Mary's University School of Law. From 2001 to August 2010, he worked as an administrative judge for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in San Antonio, Texas. From 1998 to 2001, Judge Powell was an administrative law attorney for the U.S. Department of the Army. From 1996 to 1998, he was an administrative law attorney for the Panama Canal Commission, where, from 1977 to 1982, he worked in the same capacity. From 1982 to 1996, Judge Powell was in private practice. From 1973 to 1977, he served in the U.S. Army, Judge Advocate General Corps. Judge Powell is a member of the State Bar of Texas.

Deciding Asylum Cases

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Figure 1: Percent of Asylum Matters Denied

Detailed data on Judge Powell decisions were examined for the period covering fiscal years 2016 through 2021. During this period, Judge Powell is recorded as deciding 320 asylum claims on their merits. Of these, he granted 23, gave no conditional grants, and denied 297. Converted to percentage terms, Powell denied 92.8 percent and granted (including conditional grants) 7.2 percent. Figure 1 provides a comparison of Judge Powell's denial rate fiscal year-by-year over this recent period. (Rates for years with less than 25 decisions are not shown.)

Nationwide Comparisons

Compared to Judge Powell's denial rate of 92.8 percent, nationally during this same period, immigration court judges denied 67.6 percent of asylum claims. In the Los Fresnos Immigration Court where Judge Powell was based, judges there denied asylum 90.6 percent of the time. See Figure 2.

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Figure 2: Comparing Denial Rates (percents)

Judge Powell 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 Powell here receives a rank of 87. That is 86 judges denied asylum at higher rates, and 471 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.

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Figure 3: Asylum Seeker Had Representation

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 Powell, 60.3% 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.

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Figure 4: Asylum Decisions by Nationality

For Judge Powell, the largest group of asylum seekers appearing before him came from Eritrea. Individuals from this nation made up 13.8 % of his caseload. Other nationalities in descending order of frequency appearing before Judge Powell were: Honduras (12.5 %), Guatemala (11.9%), Mexico (11.3%), El Salvador (8.8%). 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 (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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