Published Oct 19, 2023
Then-Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker appointed Elizabeth A. Cottor to beginhearing cases in March 2019. Judge Cottor earned a Bachelor of Arts in 1992 from University ofArizona and a Juris Doctor in 1996 from the William Mitchell School of Law. From 2005 to2019, she served as a deputy county attorney (DCA) with the Maricopa County Attorney’sOffice (MCAO), in Phoenix. From 2003 to 2005, she was an attorney with Ryley, Carlock &Applewhite P.A., in Phoenix. From 2000 to 2003, she was an attorney with Burch & CracchioloP.A., in Phoenix. In 2003, she was an adjunct professor with the Grand Canyon University inPhoenix. From 1998 to 2000, she served as a DCA with MCAO. From 1996 to 1998, she servedas an attorney with the Securities Division of the Arizona Corporation Commission in Phoenix.Judge Cottor is a member of the State Bar of Arizona.
Detailed data on decisions by Judge Cottor were examined for the period covering fiscal years 2018 through 2023. During this period, court records show that Judge Cottor decided 289 asylum claims on their merits. Of these, she granted asylum for 51, granted 5 other types of relief, and denied relief to 233. Converted to percentage terms, Cottor denied 80.6 percent and granted 19.3 percent of asylum cases (including forms of relief other than asylum).
Figure 1 provides a comparison of Judge Cottor's denial rate each fiscal year over this recent period. (Rates for years with less than 25 decisions are not shown.)
Compared to Judge Cottor's denial rate of 80.6 percent, Immigration Court judges across the country denied 60.6 percent of asylum claims during this same period. Judges at the Phoenix Immigration Court where Judge Cottor decided these cases denied asylum 79.8 percent of the time. See Figure 2.
Judge Cottor'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 Cottor, 8.3% 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 Cottor came from Mexico. Individuals from this country made up 36.7% of her caseload. Other nationalities in descending order of frequency appearing before Judge Cottor were: Guatemala (24.2%), Honduras (7.3%), El Salvador (6.6%), India (3.1%). 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%).