Judge Steven A. Morley

FY 2013 - 2018, Philadelphia Immigration Court

Attorney General Eric Holder appointed Judge Morley in December 2010. Judge Morley received a bachelor of arts degree in 1973 from University of Wisconsin, Madison and a juris doctorate in 1976 from the University of Wisconsin Law School. From 2003 to December 2010, he was a partner with Morley Surin & Griffin, P.C. From 1984 to 2003, Judge Morley was in private practice. From 1976 to 1984, he was a public defender for the Defender Association of Philadelphia. He has taught immigration law courses at Drexel University, Villanova University School of Law and Rutgers School of Law, Camden since 2007. Judge Morley is a member of the Pennsylvania Bar.

Deciding Asylum Cases

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Figure 1: Percent of Asylum Matters Denied

Detailed data on Judge Morley decisions were examined for the period covering fiscal years 2013 through 2018. During this period, Judge Morley is recorded as deciding 433 asylum claims on their merits. Of these, he granted 232, gave no conditional grants, and denied 201. Converted to percentage terms, Morley denied 46.4 percent and granted (including conditional grants) 53.6 percent. Figure 1 provides a comparison of Judge Morley's denial rate fiscal year-by-year over this recent period.

Nationwide Comparisons

Compared to Judge Morley's denial rate of 46.4 percent, nationally during this same period, immigration court judges denied 57.6 percent of asylum claims. In the Philadelphia Immigration Court where Judge Morley was based, judges there denied asylum 41.5 percent of the time. See Figure 2.

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Figure 2: Comparing Denial Rates (percents)

Judge Morley can also be ranked compared to each of the 347 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 347 - where 1 represented the highest denial percent and 347 represented the lowest - Judge Morley here receives a rank of 249. That is 248 judges denied asylum at higher rates, and 98 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 (91%) of them are denied asylum. In contrast, a significantly higher proportion of represented asylum seekers are successful. In the case of Judge Morley, 4.8% were not represented by an attorney. See Figure 3. For the nation as a whole, about 20% 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 Morley, the largest group of asylum seekers appearing before him came from Guatemala. Individuals from this nation made up 21 % of his caseload. Other nationalities in descending order of frequency appearing before Judge Morley were: Honduras (14.1 %), El Salvador (9.7%), Mexico (6.2%), China (5.5%). See Figure 4.

In the nation as a whole during this same period, major nationalities of asylum seekers, in descending order of frequency, were China (18.5%), El Salvador (14.7%), Mexico (12.0%), Honduras (10.9%), Guatemala (10.3%), India (3.2%), Haiti (2.1%), Nepal (1.8%), Eritrea (1.3%), Ethiopia (1.3%), Somalia (1.2%), Cameroon (1.0%), Bangladesh (1.0%).

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