Published Oct 19, 2023
Attorney General Jeff Sessions appointed Vance H. Spath to begin hearing cases in October2018. Judge Spath earned a Bachelor of Arts in 1987 from Virginia Wesleyan University, a JurisDoctor in 1991 from Quinnipiac University, and a Master of Laws in 2001 from the JudgeAdvocate General’s Legal Center and School. From 1993 to 2018, he was an attorney and judgewith the U.S. Air Force in the following locations: Joint Base Andrews, Maryland; Kadena AirBase, Japan; Travis Air Force Base, California; F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming; BollingAir Force Base, Maryland; Shriever Air Force Base, Colorado; Randolph Air Force Base,Colorado; Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio; Randolph Air Force Base, Texas; andRamstein Air Force Base, Germany. Judge Spath is a member of the New York State Bar.
Detailed data on decisions by Judge Spath were examined for the period covering fiscal years 2018 through 2023. During this period, court records show that Judge Spath decided 532 asylum claims on their merits. Of these, he granted asylum for 205, granted 1 other types of relief, and denied relief to 326. Converted to percentage terms, Spath denied 61.3 percent and granted 38.7 percent of asylum cases (including forms of relief other than asylum).
Figure 1 provides a comparison of Judge Spath's denial rate each fiscal year over this recent period. (Rates for years with less than 25 decisions are not shown.)
Compared to Judge Spath's denial rate of 61.3 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 Spath decided these cases denied asylum 55.8 percent of the time. See Figure 2.
Judge Spath'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 Spath, 8.1% 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 Spath came from El Salvador. Individuals from this country made up 56.6% of his caseload. Other nationalities in descending order of frequency appearing before Judge Spath were: Honduras (26.3%), Guatemala (13.7%), Mexico (0.9%), Cameroon (0.6%). 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%).