Published Oct 19, 2023
Richard B. Cato was appointed as an Immigration Judge to begin hearing cases in October 2022. Judge Cato earned a Bachelor of Arts in 1980 from the University of Florida and a Juris Doctor in 1986 from Florida State University College of Law. From 2008 to 2022, he was a hearing officer and administrative judge with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Office of Hearings and Appeals, National Appeals Division. From 2001 to 2008, he worked for the State of Florida Department of Children and Families in the following roles: staff attorney (2001-2005); deputy chief legal counsel Orange County (2005-2007); and chief legal counsel Polk County (2007- 2008). Also, from 2001 to 2008, he was appointed by the State of Florida Office of the Attorney General to accept periodic case assignments as a board arbitrator for the Florida New Motor Vehicle Arbitration Board. From 1998 to 2001, he was the managing attorney for Greater Orlando Area Legal Services (GOALS). From 1989 to 1998, he was in private practice. From 1988 to 1989, he was an associate attorney with Perry & Lamb, PA. From 1986 to 1988, he was a GOALS staff attorney and office manager. Judge Cato is a member of the Florida Bar.
Detailed data on decisions by Judge Cato were examined for the period covering fiscal years 2018 through 2023. During this period, court records show that Judge Cato decided 137 asylum claims on their merits. Of these, he granted asylum for 59, granted 6 other types of relief, and denied relief to 72. Converted to percentage terms, Cato denied 52.6 percent and granted 47.5 percent of asylum cases (including forms of relief other than asylum).
Figure 1 provides a comparison of Judge Cato's denial rate each fiscal year over this recent period. (Rates for years with less than 25 decisions are not shown.)
Compared to Judge Cato's denial rate of 52.6 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 Cato decided these cases denied asylum 49.1 percent of the time. See Figure 2.
Judge Cato'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 Cato, 10.2% were not represented by an attorney. See Figure 3. For the nation as a whole, about 15.7% of asylum seekers are not represented.
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 Cato came from Brazil. Individuals from this country made up 65.7% of his caseload. Other nationalities in descending order of frequency appearing before Judge Cato were: Colombia (10.2%), Dominican Republic (6.6%), Ecuador (4.4%), Angola (3.6%). 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%).