Published Oct 19, 2023
Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch appointed Valerie A. Burch to begin hearing cases in September 2016. Judge Burch earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in 2000 from the University of Rochester and a Juris Doctor in 2004 from the Penn State Dickinson School of Law. From 2012 to September 2016, she was an attorney for The Shagin Law Group, in Harrisburg, Pa. From 2007 through 2012, she was a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, in Harrisburg, Pa. From 2004 through 2007, she was a managing attorney for the Pennsylvania Immigration Resource Center, in York, Pa. Judge Burch is a member of the Pennsylvania Bar.
Detailed data on decisions by Judge Burch were examined for the period covering fiscal years 2018 through 2023. During this period, court records show that Judge Burch decided 124 asylum claims on their merits. Of these, she granted asylum for 55, granted 8 other types of relief, and denied relief to 61. Converted to percentage terms, Burch denied 49.2 percent and granted 50.9 percent of asylum cases (including forms of relief other than asylum).
Figure 1 provides a comparison of Judge Burch's denial rate each fiscal year over this recent period. (Rates for years with less than 25 decisions are not shown.)
Compared to Judge Burch's denial rate of 49.2 percent, Immigration Court judges across the country denied 60.6 percent of asylum claims during this same period. Judges at the San Francisco Immigration Court where Judge Burch decided these cases denied asylum 29.2 percent of the time. See Figure 2.
Judge Burch'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 Burch, 21% 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 Burch came from Mexico. Individuals from this country made up 28.2% of her caseload. Other nationalities in descending order of frequency appearing before Judge Burch were: El Salvador (20.2%), India (15.3%), Guatemala (12.9%), Nepal (4.8%). 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%).