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Judge Cynthia A. Lafuente-Gaona
FY 2018 - 2023, Laredo Immigration Court

Published Oct 19, 2023

Attorney General Jeff Sessions appointed Cynthia A. Lafuente-Gaona to begin hearingcases in November 2017. Judge Lafuente-Gaona earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1991 fromthe University of Texas at Austin and a Juris Doctor in 1998 from the Texas Wesleyan UniversitySchool of Law. From 2005 to 2017, she worked for the U.S. House of Representatives in theoffice of Congressman Henry Cuellar in San Antonio, serving as deputy chief of staff and counselfrom 2005 to 2010, and chief of staff and counsel from 2011 to 2017. From 2005 to 2014, she wasalso a sole practitioner at the Law Offices of Robert Gaona & Associates, in San Antonio. From1998 to 2004, she served as assistant attorney general for the State of Texas Attorney General, inSan Antonio. Judge Lafuente-Gaona is a member of the Texas State Bar.

Deciding Asylum Cases

Detailed data on decisions by Judge Lafuente-Gaona were examined for the period covering fiscal years 2018 through 2023. During this period, court records show that Judge Lafuente-Gaona decided 112 asylum claims on their merits. Of these, she granted asylum for 49, granted 7 other types of relief, and denied relief to 56. Converted to percentage terms, Lafuente-Gaona denied 50.0 percent and granted 50.1 percent of asylum cases (including forms of relief other than asylum).

Figure 1 provides a comparison of Judge Lafuente-Gaona'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 Lafuente-Gaona's denial rate of 50.0 percent, Immigration Court judges across the country denied 60.6 percent of asylum claims during this same period. Judges at the Laredo Immigration Court where Judge Lafuente-Gaona decided these cases denied asylum 70.6 percent of the time. See Figure 2.

Judge Lafuente-Gaona'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 Lafuente-Gaona, 63.4% 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 Lafuente-Gaona came from Cuba. Individuals from this country made up 33.9% of her caseload. Other nationalities in descending order of frequency appearing before Judge Lafuente-Gaona were: Venezuela (32.1%), Honduras (26.8%), Guatemala (3.6%), El Salvador (2.7%). 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 (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.