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Judge Emmett D. Soper
FY 2018 - 2023, Arlington Immigration Court

Published Oct 19, 2023

Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch appointed Emmett D. Soper to begin hearing cases in February 2017. Judge Soper earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1998 from Carleton College and a Juris Doctor in 2005 from the University of Oregon School of Law. From 2012 to January 2017, he served as an associate general counsel for the Office of the General Counsel, Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), Department of Justice (DOJ), in Falls Church, Va. From 2010 through 2012, he served as an attorney advisor for the Office of Legal Policy, DOJ, in Washington, D.C. From 2006 through 2010, he served as an attorney advisor for the Office of the Chief Immigration Judge, EOIR, DOJ, in Falls Church, Va. From 2005 through 2006, he served as a judicial law clerk for the Buffalo Immigration Court, EOIR, DOJ. Judge Soper is a member of the Oregon State Bar.

Deciding Asylum Cases

Detailed data on decisions by Judge Soper were examined for the period covering fiscal years 2018 through 2023. During this period, court records show that Judge Soper decided 534 asylum claims on their merits. Of these, he granted asylum for 349, granted 13 other types of relief, and denied relief to 172. Converted to percentage terms, Soper denied 32.2 percent and granted 67.8 percent of asylum cases (including forms of relief other than asylum).

Figure 1 provides a comparison of Judge Soper'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 Soper's denial rate of 32.2 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 Soper decided these cases denied asylum 55.8 percent of the time. See Figure 2.

Judge Soper'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 Soper, 2.4% 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 Soper came from El Salvador. Individuals from this country made up 61.6% of his caseload. Other nationalities in descending order of frequency appearing before Judge Soper were: Honduras (20.6%), Guatemala (7.3%), Ethiopia (1.5%), Mexico (1.5%). 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.