Published Oct 19, 2023
Attorney General William Barr appointed Pedro J. Espinal to begin hearing cases in October2019. Judge Espinal earned a Bachelor of Arts in 2001 from the University of Puerto Rico and aJuris Doctor in 2004 from University of Puerto Rico School of Law. From 2016 to 2019, heserved as a deputy chief counsel, Office of the Principal Legal Advisor (OPLA), Immigrationand Customs Enforcement (ICE), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in San Juan, PuertoRico. From 2011 to 2016, he served as an assistant chief counsel, OPLA, ICE, DHS, in San Juan,Puerto Rico. From 2009 to 2011, he served as an adjudications services officer, U.S. Citizenshipand Immigration Services (USCIS), DHS, in San Juan, Puerto Rico. From 2007 to 2009, heserved as an adjudications services officer, USCIS, DHS, in New York. From 2004 to 2007, hewas a trial attorney with Lavergne-Ramirez & Colon-Machargo LLC, in San Juan, Puerto Rico.Judge Espinal is a member of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico Bar.
Detailed data on decisions by Judge Espinal were examined for the period covering fiscal years 2018 through 2023. During this period, court records show that Judge Espinal decided 170 asylum claims on their merits. Of these, he granted asylum for 91, granted 1 other types of relief, and denied relief to 78. Converted to percentage terms, Espinal denied 45.9 percent and granted 54.1 percent of asylum cases (including forms of relief other than asylum).
Figure 1 provides a comparison of Judge Espinal's denial rate each fiscal year over this recent period. (Rates for years with less than 25 decisions are not shown.)
Compared to Judge Espinal's denial rate of 45.9 percent, Immigration Court judges across the country denied 60.6 percent of asylum claims during this same period. Judges at the Oakdale Immigration Court where Judge Espinal decided these cases denied asylum 70.4 percent of the time. See Figure 2.
Judge Espinal'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 Espinal, 56.5% 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 Espinal came from Cuba. Individuals from this country made up 33.5% of his caseload. Other nationalities in descending order of frequency appearing before Judge Espinal were: Cameroon (25.3%), Venezuela (9.4%), Mexico (7.1%), Colombia (5.3%). 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%).