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Judge Kelly B. Lake
FY 2018 - 2023, San Francisco Immigration Court

Published Oct 19, 2023

Then-Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker appointed Kelly B. Lake to begin hearingcases in March 2019. Judge Lake earned a Bachelor of Arts in 1995 from the University ofCalifornia, Los Angeles, and a Juris Doctor in 1998 from Loyola Law School of Los Angeles.From 1999 to 2007, she served as a deputy district attorney for the Los Angeles County DistrictAttorney’s Office. From 2007 to 2008 she was an associate legal advisor, Office of the PrincipalLegal Advisor, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Department of Homeland Security, inWashington D.C. Judge Lake served in various capacities for the Department of Justice,including: from 2009 to 2010, as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of Illinois;from 2010 to 2014 as an assistant U.S. attorney in the District of the Virgin Islands; from 2014 to2016, as a trial attorney in the Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section, Criminal Division, inWashington D.C.; from 2016 to 2017, as the resident legal advisor, Overseas ProsecutorialDevelopment and Training Section (OPDAT), Criminal Division, in Lagos, Nigeria; and from2017 to 2018, as the resident legal advisor, OPDAT, Criminal Division, in Islamabad, Pakistan.Judge Lake is a member of the State Bar of California and District of Columbia Bar.

Deciding Asylum Cases

Detailed data on decisions by Judge Lake were examined for the period covering fiscal years 2018 through 2023. During this period, court records show that Judge Lake decided 474 asylum claims on their merits. Of these, she granted asylum for 219, granted 31 other types of relief, and denied relief to 224. Converted to percentage terms, Lake denied 47.3 percent and granted 52.7 percent of asylum cases (including forms of relief other than asylum).

Figure 1 provides a comparison of Judge Lake'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 Lake's denial rate of 47.3 percent, Immigration Court judges across the country denied 60.6 percent of asylum claims during this same period. Judges at the San Francisco Immigration Court where Judge Lake decided these cases denied asylum 29.2 percent of the time. See Figure 2.

Judge Lake'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 Lake, 12% 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 Lake came from Mexico. Individuals from this country made up 35.4% of her caseload. Other nationalities in descending order of frequency appearing before Judge Lake were: El Salvador (17.1%), Guatemala (13.5%), India (11.6%), Honduras (6.3%). 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.