Judge Michael S. Pleters

FY 2015 - 2020, El Paso - Epd Immigration Court

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.

Deciding Asylum Cases

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Figure 1: Percent of Asylum Matters Denied

Detailed data on Judge Pleters decisions were examined for the period covering fiscal years 2015 through 2020. During this period, Judge Pleters is recorded as deciding 131 asylum claims on their merits. Of these, he granted 25, gave no conditional grants, and denied 106. Converted to percentage terms, Pleters denied 80.9 percent and granted (including conditional grants) 19.1 percent. Figure 1 provides a comparison of Judge Pleters'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 Pleters's denial rate of 80.9 percent, nationally during this same period, immigration court judges denied 66.7 percent of asylum claims. In the El Paso - Epd Immigration Court where Judge Pleters was based, judges there denied asylum 87.1 percent of the time. See Figure 2.

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Figure 2: Comparing Denial Rates (percents)

Judge Pleters can also be ranked compared to each of the 526 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 526 - where 1 represented the highest denial percent and 526 represented the lowest - Judge Pleters here receives a rank of 228. That is 227 judges denied asylum at higher rates, and 298 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 Pleters, 40.5% were not represented by an attorney. See Figure 3. For the nation as a whole, about 19% 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 Pleters, the largest group of asylum seekers appearing before him came from Cuba. Individuals from this nation made up 19.1 % of his caseload. Other nationalities in descending order of frequency appearing before Judge Pleters were: Guatemala (16.8 %), El Salvador (12.2%), Honduras (10.7%), Mexico (10.7%). 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 (18.1%), Guatemala (15.1%), Honduras (14.7%), Mexico (11.8%), China (10.2%), India (3.7%), Cuba (2.5%), Haiti (1.8%), Cameroon (1.5%), Venezuela (1.3%), Nepal (1.3%), Nicaragua (1.1%), Bangladesh (1.0%).

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