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Judge John P. Ellington
FY 2018 - 2023, Elizabeth Immigration Court

Published Oct 19, 2023

Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch appointed John P. Ellington to begin hearing cases in June 2016. Judge Ellington earned a Bachelor of Science degree in 1990 from Georgia State University, a Juris Doctor in 1993 from the Dickinson School of Law, and a Master of Liberal Arts degree in 2014 from the University of Pennsylvania. From 2014 to May 2016, Judge Ellington served as general counsel and from 2002 to 2014 as government trial counsel, for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Department of Homeland Security. From 2000 through 2002, Judge Ellington served as deputy attorney general for the Fraud Section, Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General, in Norristown, Pa. From 1997 through 2000, Judge Ellington served as an assistant district attorney for the Office of the Berks County District Attorney, in Reading, Pa. Since 1991, Judge Ellington has served in various capacities for the U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps, including: from 2014 through 2018, as a military judge; from 2012 through 2014, as senior judge advocate for investigations and inspections; and from 2009 through 2012, and previously from 2003 through 2006, as a staff judge advocate. Judge Ellington is a member of the Pennsylvania Bar.

Deciding Asylum Cases

Detailed data on decisions by Judge Ellington were examined for the period covering fiscal years 2018 through 2023. During this period, court records show that Judge Ellington decided 109 asylum claims on their merits. Of these, he granted asylum for 14, granted 9 other types of relief, and denied relief to 86. Converted to percentage terms, Ellington denied 78.9 percent and granted 21.1 percent of asylum cases (including forms of relief other than asylum).

Figure 1 provides a comparison of Judge Ellington's denial rate each fiscal year over this recent period. (Rates for years with less than 25 decisions are not shown.)

Figure 1: Percent of Asylum Matters Denied

Nationwide Comparisons

Compared to Judge Ellington's denial rate of 78.9 percent, Immigration Court judges across the country denied 60.6 percent of asylum claims during this same period. Judges at the Elizabeth Immigration Court where Judge Ellington decided these cases denied asylum 76.2 percent of the time. See Figure 2.

Judge Ellington'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.

Figure 2: Comparing Denial Rates (percents)

Why Do Denial Rates Vary Among Judges?

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 Ellington, 38.5% were not represented by an attorney. See Figure 3. For the nation as a whole, about 15.7% of asylum seekers are not represented.

Figure 3: Asylum Seeker Had Representation


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 Ellington came from Mexico. Individuals from this country made up 9.2% of his caseload. Other nationalities in descending order of frequency appearing before Judge Ellington were: Cuba (7.3%), Dominican Republic (6.4%), Guatemala (6.4%), Honduras (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 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%).

Figure 4: Asylum Decisions by Nationality
TRAC is a nonpartisan, nonprofit data research center affiliated with the Newhouse School of Public Communications and the Whitman School of Management, both at Syracuse University. For more information, to subscribe, or to donate, contact trac@syr.edu or call 315-443-3563.