Published Oct 19, 2023
Attorney General Eric Holder appointed Judge Averwater to begin hearing cases in June 2015.Judge Averwater received a bachelor of science degree in 1985 from the University of Ozarksand a juris doctorate in 1988 from the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School ofLaw. From June 2010 to May 2015, Judge Averwater was in private practice in Memphis,Tenn., where he specialized in immigration law. From 2009 to 2010, he was a litigation attorneywithin the Office of Legal Counsel, Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance. From2002 to 2007, Judge Averwater served as assistant chief counsel, U.S. Immigration and CustomsEnforcement (ICE), Department of Homeland Security, in Memphis, Tenn. From 2000 to 2001,he was assistant district attorney for the Shelby County District Attorney’s Office, in Memphis,Tenn. From 1993 to 2000, Judge Averwater served as assistant chief counsel, ICE, in Oakdale,La. From 1990 to 1992, he served as special agent and pilot, Federal Bureau of Investigation,Department of Justice, in Tampa, Fla. From 1989 to 1990, Judge Averwater worked as anattorney entering on duty through the Attorney General’s Honors program for the formerImmigration and Naturalization Service in El Paso, Texas. Judge Averwater is a member of theTennessee Bar.
Detailed data on decisions by Judge Averwater were examined for the period covering fiscal years 2018 through 2023. During this period, court records show that Judge Averwater decided 441 asylum claims on their merits. Of these, he granted asylum for 56, granted 2 other types of relief, and denied relief to 383. Converted to percentage terms, Averwater denied 86.8 percent and granted 13.2 percent of asylum cases (including forms of relief other than asylum).
Figure 1 provides a comparison of Judge Averwater's denial rate each fiscal year over this recent period. (Rates for years with less than 25 decisions are not shown.)
Compared to Judge Averwater's denial rate of 86.8 percent, Immigration Court judges across the country denied 60.6 percent of asylum claims during this same period. Judges at the Memphis Immigration Court where Judge Averwater decided these cases denied asylum 83.7 percent of the time. See Figure 2.
Judge Averwater'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 Averwater, 2.9% 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 Averwater came from Guatemala. Individuals from this country made up 39.5% of his caseload. Other nationalities in descending order of frequency appearing before Judge Averwater were: El Salvador (24.5%), Honduras (19.5%), Mexico (8.8%), China (2.0%). 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%).