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Judge Karen M. Donoso Stevens
FY 2018 - 2023, Arlington Immigration Court

Published Oct 19, 2023

Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch appointed Karen M. Donoso Stevens to begin hearing cases in October 2016. Judge Donoso Stevens earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1995 from the University of Illinois and a Juris Doctor in 1999 from the Michigan State University College of Law. From 2010 to October 2016, she served as a senior attorney for the Office of the Chief Counsel, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in Arlington, Va. From 2007 through 2010, she served as an assistant chief counsel for the Office of the Chief Counsel, ICE, DHS, in Arlington, Va. From 2005 through 2006, she served as a staff attorney for the Children’s Project at the National Immigrant Justice Center, in Chicago. From 2001 through 2003, she served as juvenile diversion program director for the California Bar Foundation, Orange County, Calif. In 2001, she served as family services coordinator for the Children’s Bureau of Southern California, in Santa Ana, Calif. From 1999 through 2000, she served as an assistant state’s attorney for the Illinois State’s Attorney’s Office, in Cook County, Chicago. Judge Donoso Stevens is a member of the Illinois State Bar.

Deciding Asylum Cases

Detailed data on decisions by Judge Donoso-Stevens were examined for the period covering fiscal years 2018 through 2023. During this period, court records show that Judge Donoso-Stevens decided 266 asylum claims on their merits. Of these, she granted asylum for 110, granted 5 other types of relief, and denied relief to 151. Converted to percentage terms, Donoso-Stevens denied 56.8 percent and granted 43.3 percent of asylum cases (including forms of relief other than asylum).

Figure 1 provides a comparison of Judge Donoso-Stevens'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 Donoso-Stevens's denial rate of 56.8 percent, Immigration Court judges across the country denied 60.6 percent of asylum claims during this same period. Judges at the Arlington Immigration Court where Judge Donoso-Stevens decided these cases denied asylum 55.8 percent of the time. See Figure 2.

Judge Donoso-Stevens'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 Donoso-Stevens, 18.4% 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 Donoso-Stevens came from El Salvador. Individuals from this country made up 44.4% of her caseload. Other nationalities in descending order of frequency appearing before Judge Donoso-Stevens were: Honduras (15.4%), Guatemala (7.5%), Cuba (4.1%), Mexico (3.8%). 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%).

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.