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Judge Richard Zanfardino
FY 2018 - 2023, Portland Immigration Court

Published Oct 19, 2023

Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch appointed Richard Zanfardino to begin hearing cases in September 2016. Judge Zanfardino earned both a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1989 and a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1990 from North Carolina State University, and a Juris Doctor in 1996 from the Columbus School of Law, Catholic University of America. From 2006 to September 2016, he served as a trial attorney for the Office of Immigration Litigation, Department of Justice (DOJ). From 1997 through 2006, he served as an attorney advisor for the Board of Immigration Appeals, Executive Office for Immigration Review, DOJ. From 2003 through 2004, he served as a special assistant U.S. attorney for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, DOJ, in Washington, D.C. Judge Zanfardino is a member of the District of Columbia Bar.

Deciding Asylum Cases

Detailed data on decisions by Judge Zanfardino were examined for the period covering fiscal years 2018 through 2023. During this period, court records show that Judge Zanfardino decided 629 asylum claims on their merits. Of these, he granted asylum for 151, granted 10 other types of relief, and denied relief to 468. Converted to percentage terms, Zanfardino denied 74.4 percent and granted 25.6 percent of asylum cases (including forms of relief other than asylum).

Figure 1 provides a comparison of Judge Zanfardino'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 Zanfardino's denial rate of 74.4 percent, Immigration Court judges across the country denied 60.6 percent of asylum claims during this same period. Judges at the Portland Immigration Court where Judge Zanfardino decided these cases denied asylum 73.3 percent of the time. See Figure 2.

Judge Zanfardino'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 Zanfardino, 25.4% 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 Zanfardino came from Mexico. Individuals from this country made up 43.6% of his caseload. Other nationalities in descending order of frequency appearing before Judge Zanfardino were: Guatemala (24.5%), Honduras (6.8%), El Salvador (4.6%), India (4.0%). 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.