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Judge Bryan D. Watson
FY 2018 - 2023, Atlanta Immigration Court

Published Oct 19, 2023

Bryan D. Watson was appointed as an Immigration Judge to begin hearing cases in April 2021.Judge Watson earned a Bachelor of Arts in 1993 from the University of Missouri, a Juris Doctorin 1996 from the University of Missouri, a Master of Arts in 2006 from Air University, and aMaster of Science in 2014 from the National Defense University. From 2019 to 2021, he servedas the Chief Trial Judge of the U.S. Air Force Trial Judiciary, at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland.From 2017 to 2019, he served as the Commandant of the U.S. Air Force Judge AdvocateGeneral’s School, at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama. From 2014 to 2017, he served as theGeneral Counsel of the White House Military Office, in the District of Columbia. From 1996 to2021, he served as a U.S. Air Force Active Duty Judge Advocate, in the following locations:Moody Air Force Base, Georgia; Francis E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming; Langley AirForce Base, Virginia; Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama; Randolph Air Force Base, Texas; JointBase Andrews, Maryland; Aviano Air Base, Italy; and the Pentagon, White House, Bolling AirForce Base, and Fort McNair, District of Columbia. He retired from the U.S. Air Force in 2021as a Colonel. Judge Watson is a member of the State Bar of Georgia and the Missouri Bar.

Deciding Asylum Cases

Detailed data on decisions by Judge Watson were examined for the period covering fiscal years 2018 through 2023. During this period, court records show that Judge Watson decided 195 asylum claims on their merits. Of these, he granted asylum for 53, granted 0 other types of relief, and denied relief to 142. Converted to percentage terms, Watson denied 72.8 percent and granted 27.2 percent of asylum cases (including forms of relief other than asylum).

Figure 1 provides a comparison of Judge Watson'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 Watson's denial rate of 72.8 percent, Immigration Court judges across the country denied 60.6 percent of asylum claims during this same period. Judges at the Atlanta Immigration Court where Judge Watson decided these cases denied asylum 89.5 percent of the time. See Figure 2.

Judge Watson'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 Watson, 9.2% 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 Watson came from Guatemala. Individuals from this country made up 29.7% of his caseload. Other nationalities in descending order of frequency appearing before Judge Watson were: Honduras (16.9%), El Salvador (16.4%), Venezuela (16.4%), Mexico (6.2%). 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.