Published Oct 19, 2023
Attorney General Jeff Sessions appointed Michael S. Pleters to begin hearing cases in July 2017. Judge Pleters earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1987 from Columbia University and a Juris Doctor in 1992 from the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University. From 1999 to 2017, he served as an assistant chief counsel for the Office of Chief Counsel, Department of Homeland Security, in El Paso, Texas. From 2011 to 2014, he served as a special assistant U.S. attorney at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Mexico. From 1994 to 1999, he served as an assistant district attorney for the Office of the District Attorney, 34th Judicial District, also in El Paso. From 1992 to 1994, he served as a law clerk for the Honorable Harry Lee Hudspeth, Chief U.S. District Court Judge, Western District of Texas. Judge Pleters is a member of the Texas and New York State Bars.
Detailed data on decisions by Judge Pleters were examined for the period covering fiscal years 2018 through 2023. During this period, court records show that Judge Pleters decided 155 asylum claims on their merits. Of these, he granted asylum for 30, granted 6 other types of relief, and denied relief to 119. Converted to percentage terms, Pleters denied 76.8 percent and granted 23.3 percent of asylum cases (including forms of relief other than asylum).
Figure 1 provides a comparison of Judge Pleters's denial rate each fiscal year over this recent period. (Rates for years with less than 25 decisions are not shown.)
Compared to Judge Pleters's denial rate of 76.8 percent, Immigration Court judges across the country denied 60.6 percent of asylum claims during this same period. Judges at the El Paso - Epd Immigration Court where Judge Pleters decided these cases denied asylum 77.3 percent of the time. See Figure 2.
Judge Pleters'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 Pleters, 46.5% were not represented by an attorney. See Figure 3. For the nation as a whole, about 15.7% of asylum seekers are not represented.
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 Pleters came from Guatemala. Individuals from this country made up 16.8% of his caseload. Other nationalities in descending order of frequency appearing before Judge Pleters were: Mexico (15.5%), Cuba (12.3%), El Salvador (11.0%), Honduras (8.4%). 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%).