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Judge Sandra J. Santos-Garcia
FY 2018 - 2023, Van Nuys Immigration Court

Published Oct 19, 2023

Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch appointed Sandra J. Santos-Garcia to begin hearing cases in June 2016. Judge Santos-Garcia earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1998 and a Juris Doctor in 2001, both from the University of California, Berkeley. From 2010 through 2016, Judge Santos-Garcia served as a senior attorney for the Office of the Chief Counsel (OCC), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Department of Homeland Security (DHS). From 2001 through 2010, Judge Santos-Garcia served as assistant chief counsel for OCC, ICE, DHS. Judge Santos-Garcia is a member of the State Bars of Arizona and California.

Deciding Asylum Cases

Detailed data on decisions by Judge Santos-Garcia were examined for the period covering fiscal years 2018 through 2023. During this period, court records show that Judge Santos-Garcia decided 363 asylum claims on their merits. Of these, he granted asylum for 167, granted 16 other types of relief, and denied relief to 180. Converted to percentage terms, Santos-Garcia denied 49.6 percent and granted 50.4 percent of asylum cases (including forms of relief other than asylum).

Figure 1 provides a comparison of Judge Santos-Garcia'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 Santos-Garcia's denial rate of 49.6 percent, Immigration Court judges across the country denied 60.6 percent of asylum claims during this same period. Judges at the Van Nuys Immigration Court where Judge Santos-Garcia decided these cases denied asylum 50.5 percent of the time. See Figure 2.

Judge Santos-Garcia'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 Santos-Garcia, 4.7% 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 Santos-Garcia came from Armenia. Individuals from this country made up 17.6% of his caseload. Other nationalities in descending order of frequency appearing before Judge Santos-Garcia were: El Salvador (17.4%), Mexico (12.7%), Russia (12.4%), Guatemala (9.9%). 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 (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.