Published Oct 19, 2023
Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch appointed G. William Riggs to begin hearing cases in September 2016. Judge Riggs earned a Bachelor of Applied Arts degree in 1985 from Florida Atlantic University, a Juris Doctor in 1990 from Nova Southeastern University, and a Master of Laws degree in 2002 from the U.S. Army Judge Advocate Generals School. From 2008 to September 2016, he served in various capacities for the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) at Camp Lejeune, N.C., including as deputy assistant chief of staff for Force Preservation, staff judge advocate, and circuit military judge for the Eastern Judicial Circuit. From 2008 through 2009, he served as a senior rule of law advisor and deputy rule of law team leader for the Provincial Reconstruction Team, USMC, at Camp Ramadi, Iraq. From 2004 through 2008, he served as a staff judge advocate for the USMC Forces Central Command, at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla. From 2002 through 2004, he served as the head of the Operational Law Branch, Navy International and Operational Law, Department of the Navy, at the Pentagon. Prior to 2002, he served in various legal positions for the USMC, including as a staff judge advocate, deputy staff judge advocate, assistant staff judge advocate, prosecutor, defense counsel, and legal assistance attorney. From 1994 through 1996, he was in private practice at G. William Riggs PA, in West Palm Beach, Fla. Judge Riggs is a member of the Florida Bar.
Detailed data on decisions by Judge Riggs were examined for the period covering fiscal years 2018 through 2023. During this period, court records show that Judge Riggs decided 555 asylum claims on their merits. Of these, he granted asylum for 14, granted 0 other types of relief, and denied relief to 541. Converted to percentage terms, Riggs denied 97.5 percent and granted 2.5 percent of asylum cases (including forms of relief other than asylum).
Figure 1 provides a comparison of Judge Riggs's denial rate each fiscal year over this recent period. (Rates for years with less than 25 decisions are not shown.)
Compared to Judge Riggs's denial rate of 97.5 percent, Immigration Court judges across the country denied 60.6 percent of asylum claims during this same period. Judges at the Charlotte Immigration Court where Judge Riggs decided these cases denied asylum 88.7 percent of the time. See Figure 2.
Judge Riggs'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 Riggs, 18.4% were not represented by an attorney. See Figure 3. For the nation as a whole, about 15.7% of asylum seekers are not represented.
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 Riggs came from Honduras. Individuals from this country made up 29.9% of his caseload. Other nationalities in descending order of frequency appearing before Judge Riggs were: El Salvador (24.9%), Guatemala (20.2%), Mexico (13.5%), Brazil (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%).