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Two-Thirds of Court Asylum Applicants Found Legally Entitled to Remain

Published May 17, 2024

The latest Immigrant Court records show that over the past decade (FY 2014 to April 2024) Immigration Judges have adjudicated just over one million removal cases in which the immigrant filed an asylum application. Out of these 1,047,134 cases, Judges determined that 685,956 immigrants were legally entitled to remain in the United States because they merited asylum or another form of relief from deportation. Another 332,552 immigrants were ordered removed, and an additional 28,626 immigrants were issued voluntary departure orders.[1] Thus, in total, only about a third (34%) of immigrants in removal proceedings who filed asylum applications were ordered deported while two-thirds (66%) were allowed to remain in the country.[2]

Figure 1. Outcomes Over Last Decade, FY 2014 - FY 2024 (October 2013-April 2024), on Asylum Applications Filed in Immigration Court

Year-by-year outcomes for these million cases are shown below in Figure 2. These results cover the start of FY 2014 through April of FY 2024.

Figure 2. Immigration Judge Determinations by Fiscal Year (through April 2024) for Immigrants Who Filed Asylum Applications with Immigration Court

There was an earlier wave of asylum seekers that arrived during the Obama administration. For these cases, as shown in Figure 2 above, between 30 and 35 percent of immigrants who filed asylum applications seeking relief from removal were unsuccessful and ordered deported. The rest were allowed to stay. Of those allowed to stay, just under half were granted relief.

The rest were awarded other grounds allowing them to remain. Many of these were cases administratively closed through decisions by Immigration and Customs Enforcement attorneys under the administration’s policies of prosecutorial discretion. This was part of that administration’s efforts under the Secure Communities initiative followed by the Priority Enforcement Program (PEP).[3] Persons who had been arrested or convicted of criminal offenses in this country were prioritized for removal. Because of the long delays caused by the Court’s backlog even then, to speed deportation orders on cases posing a threat to public safety, others including some asylum seekers had their cases administratively closed after review on a case-by-case basis.

Under the Trump administration, the number granted relief from removal steadily increased until the pandemic hit and court dispositions in general dropped sharply. However, because the policy ended closing cases exercising prosecutorial discretion, the number allowed to remain in the U.S. on grounds other than a grant of relief fell. See Table 1. Thus, the proportion ordered removed during the Trump years was much higher, averaging 57 percent.

Table 1. Decisions of Immigration Judges Where Immigrant Filed a Formal Asylum Application
Fiscal Year Filed Asylum Application Immigration Judge Decision
Ordered Removed Voluntary Departure Granted Relief* Other Remain in US
2014 35,493 10,661 1,611 12,816 10,405
2015 39,164 10,607 1,152 12,220 15,185
2016 49,685 14,838 1,249 12,683 20,915
2017 50,748 22,580 2,101 14,631 11,436
2018 60,382 33,244 3,843 17,958 5,337
2019 87,018 52,223 5,940 24,109 4,746
2020 76,407 48,361 3,607 19,709 4,730
2021 51,585 17,999 1,694 13,773 18,119
2022 173,227 36,250 2,568 31,859 102,550
2023 248,232 52,440 3,374 43,113 149,305
**2024 175,193 33,349 1,487 26,514 113,843
* Includes asylum and other forms of relief.
** Covers first seven months of FY 2024 (Oct-April).

Thus far during the Biden administration the proportion allowed to remain in this country has risen to 77 percent, and those ordered removed has been just 22 percent. While after the first year, grants of relief have risen sharply, many others have had their cases terminated without a decision on the merits of their asylum claim. These terminations have been part of this administration’s efforts to speed decisions on recent cases and close older cases that weren’t a threat to public safety or national security. Again the stated aim of putting new cases at the head of the line has been to send a signal that might deter individuals without legitimate grounds for seeking asylum to not making the often dangerous journey to our southwest border.

The Continuing Importance of Representation

This report has focused on asylum seekers who have filed formal applications for asylum. Almost all of these immigrants have needed the assistance of attorneys.

Even though representation rates have been declining during the current administration, for those who have filed asylum applications little decline is seen. Ninety-six percent (96%) were represented in FY 2022 and in FY 2024 it is currently 94 percent. See Figure 3. This simply underlines the fact that without an attorney few have been able to file applications in the first place.

Figure 3. Representation Status of Immigrants Granted Asylum in Immigration Court, FY 2014 - FY 2024 (through April)

But as documented in this report, with attorneys and an asylum application the odds of being able to legally remain in this country are high. During the course of the past ten years, two out of three of the million asylum seekers who filed these required relief applications were determined by Immigration Judges legally able to remain in this country. And the odds of being allowed to remain in the U.S. have been even higher during the past four years.

In contrast, the vast majority of all those ordered removed have not been represented. In April 2024, for example, only 14 percent of immigrants, including unaccompanied children, had an attorney to assist them in Immigration Court when a removal order was issued. Many of these no doubt were asylum seekers. (Year-by-year and month-by-month figures of how many were represented who received removal orders are available using this TRAC free online Immigration Court tool.)

With our current system can we legitimately claim that most asylum seekers are not entitled to legally remain in the United States? The data suggest we simply do not know. Most persons who are familiar with the current immigration system would agree that our country has complicated procedures and an extremely complex set of immigration laws. As a consequence, immigrants need the assistance of an attorney as a practical matter to navigate this system.


Most of the thousands of immigrants seeking asylum who have been ordered deported by Immigration Judges have not had any actual Court hearing on their asylum claims. This is due in large part because they have not been able to obtain legal representation. Thus, we do not know how many of these in fact had legally valid asylum claims.

[1]^ A voluntary departure order requires the immigrant to leave the country within a certain period of time to avoid incurring more serious legal consequences. If the individual does not leave the country or is found to have reentered unlawfully, the voluntary departure order becomes a removal order, making the individual removeable by immigration authorities.
[2]^ See Figure 5 in TRAC’s December 2021 report, which summarizes outcomes of asylum applications including those originally submitted to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
[3]^ PEP was announced by DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson in a November 20, 2014 memo as a replacement for Secure Communities.
[4]^ See TRAC January 24, 2024, Report “Too Few Immigration Attorneys: Average Representation Rates Fall from 65% to 30%.” Also see May 12, 2023, TRAC Report, “Despite Efforts to Provide Pro Bono Representation, Growth Is Failing To Meet Exploding Demands.”
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.