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Judge David Robertson
FY 2018 - 2023, Boston Immigration Court

Published Oct 19, 2023

David H. Robertson was appointed as a Unit Chief Immigration Judge to begin supervisoryimmigration adjudication center duties and hearing cases in April 2021. Judge Robertson earneda Bachelor of Science in 1986 from James Madison University, a Juris Doctor in 1989 from theUniversity of Richmond School of Law, and a Master of Laws in 1999 from the Judge AdvocateGeneral’s Legal Center and School. From 1990 to 2020, he served as a U.S. Army JudgeAdvocate in various locations throughout the U.S. and Germany. During that time, from 2010 to2020, he served as a Military Judge in the following locations: Fort Bliss, Texas; Fort Bragg,North Carolina; Kaiserslautern, Germany; and Fort Stewart, Georgia. While serving as a MilitaryJudge, he also presided over trials in Kuwait and Afghanistan. From 2004 to 2006, he served as aRegional Defense Counsel; from 1999 to 2001, as a Senior Defense Counsel; from 1995 toCommunications and Legislative Affairs Division1997, as a Prosecutor; and from 1993 to 1995, as a Defense Counsel. From 1995 to 1996, hedeployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina, and from 2007 to 2008, he deployed to Kosovo. In 2020, heretired in the rank of Colonel. Judge Robertson is a member of the Virginia State Bar.

Deciding Asylum Cases

Detailed data on decisions by Judge Robertson were examined for the period covering fiscal years 2018 through 2023. During this period, court records show that Judge Robertson decided 127 asylum claims on their merits. Of these, he granted asylum for 7, granted 0 other types of relief, and denied relief to 120. Converted to percentage terms, Robertson denied 94.5 percent and granted 5.5 percent of asylum cases (including forms of relief other than asylum).

Figure 1 provides a comparison of Judge Robertson'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 Robertson's denial rate of 94.5 percent, Immigration Court judges across the country denied 60.6 percent of asylum claims during this same period. Judges at the Boston Immigration Court where Judge Robertson decided these cases denied asylum 49.1 percent of the time. See Figure 2.

Judge Robertson'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 Robertson, 0.8% 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 Robertson came from Brazil. Individuals from this country made up 33.1% of his caseload. Other nationalities in descending order of frequency appearing before Judge Robertson were: Guatemala (22.0%), El Salvador (16.5%), Democratic Republic of Congo (4.7%), Ecuador (4.7%). 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.