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Judge Michelle Kahan
FY 2018 - 2023, Boston Immigration Court

Published Oct 19, 2023

Michelle C. Kahan was appointed as an Immigration Judge to begin hearing cases in March 2022. Judge Kahan earned a Bachelor of Arts in 1983 from the School of International Service of The American University and a Juris Doctor in 1986 from The Delaware Law School of Widener University. From 1994 to 2022, she served as a Judicial Hearing Officer for the Court of Common Pleas of York County, Pennsylvania. From 1997 to 2022, she was a solo practitioner in York, Pennsylvania. From 1992 to 1997, she was a Shareholder/Managing Attorney in the law firm of Wolfson & Kahan PC, in York, Pennsylvania. From 1987 to 1991, she was an Attorney in the law firm of Wolfson & Blackwell PC, in York, Pennsylvania. From 1985 to 1986, she served as a Judicial Law Clerk for the Honorable M. Joseph Melody, Jr. of the Court of Common Pleas of Chester County, Pennsylvania. Judge Kahan is a member of the Pennsylvania Bar.

Deciding Asylum Cases

Detailed data on decisions by Judge Kahan were examined for the period covering fiscal years 2018 through 2023. During this period, court records show that Judge Kahan decided 444 asylum claims on their merits. Of these, she granted asylum for 133, granted 3 other types of relief, and denied relief to 308. Converted to percentage terms, Kahan denied 69.4 percent and granted 30.7 percent of asylum cases (including forms of relief other than asylum).

Figure 1 provides a comparison of Judge Kahan'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 Kahan's denial rate of 69.4 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 Kahan decided these cases denied asylum 49.1 percent of the time. See Figure 2.

Judge Kahan'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 Kahan, 1.4% were not represented by an attorney. See Figure 3. For the nation as a whole, about 15.7% of asylum seekers are not represented.

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 Kahan came from Brazil. Individuals from this country made up 70.9% of her caseload. Other nationalities in descending order of frequency appearing before Judge Kahan were: Ecuador (9.7%), Guatemala (7.0%), El Salvador (3.6%), Democratic Republic of Congo (2.3%). 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.