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The Stranger
July 4, 2018

He Could Be Killed If He Is Sent Back to Russia. So Why Won't the Judge Let Him Stay?
By Katie Herzog

After five months in prison, Dmitri went before Judge Richard Zanfardino, a Portland-based immigration judge who appeared at the Tacoma hearing via teleconference. Getting this particular judge, it turns out, was bad luck: According to immigration lawyers and human-rights activists I spoke to, LGBTQ Russians seeking asylum generally have a good chance of being approved for asylum. Judges understand that being LGBTQ could get you murdered in Russia. (People from Central and South America have no such luck, despite rampant gang violence in their countries.) Zanfardino, however, has a history of denying asylum claims: According to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a research organization based out of Syracuse University, from 2007 to 2017, he approved only 16 percent of the immigration claims that came before him. Judges are supposed to be impartial, but evidence suggests they are anything but. A study that came out in May, for example, found that in criminal court, Republican-appointed judges sentence black defendants to longer sentences and women defendants to shorter sentences than Democratic-appointed judges. Other discrepancies exist, as well: Democratic-appointed judges are slightly more likely to rule in favor of environmentalists, and Republican-appointed judges are far more likely to rule in favor of industry. And in asylum cases, the discrepancies are even greater. A Reuters investigation from last year found that asylum largely depends on which judge you end up in front of: In Atlanta, 89 percent of cases result in a deportation order; in New York City, only 24 percent do.

Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, Syracuse University
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