Judge Samuel B. Cole

FY 2016 - 2021, Chicago Immigration Court

Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch appointed Samuel B. Cole to begin hearing cases in August 2016. Judge Cole earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1995 from Rice University and a Juris Doctor in 1998 from the Harvard Law School. From 2003 to July 2016, he served as an assistant U.S. attorney, U.S. Attorney’s Office, Department of Justice, in Chicago. From 1999 through 2003, he served as an associate attorney for McDermott, Will & Emery, in Chicago. Judge Cole is a member of the Illinois State Bar.

Deciding Asylum Cases

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Figure 1: Percent of Asylum Matters Denied

Detailed data on Judge Cole decisions were examined for the period covering fiscal years 2016 through 2021. During this period, Judge Cole is recorded as deciding 484 asylum claims on their merits. Of these, he granted 269, gave no conditional grants, and denied 215. Converted to percentage terms, Cole denied 44.4 percent and granted (including conditional grants) 55.6 percent. Figure 1 provides a comparison of Judge Cole'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 Cole's denial rate of 44.4 percent, nationally during this same period, immigration court judges denied 67.6 percent of asylum claims. In the Chicago Immigration Court where Judge Cole was based, judges there denied asylum 53.6 percent of the time. See Figure 2.

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Figure 2: Comparing Denial Rates (percents)

Judge Cole 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 Cole here receives a rank of 470. That is 469 judges denied asylum at higher rates, and 88 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 Cole, 53.3% 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 Cole, the largest group of asylum seekers appearing before him came from Cuba. Individuals from this nation made up 32.4 % of his caseload. Other nationalities in descending order of frequency appearing before Judge Cole were: Mexico (12.6 %), Honduras (8.1%), Guatemala (5.4%), Venezuela (3.9%). 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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