|(28 Oct 2020)
Despite the partial court shutdown during the COVID-19 pandemic, this year immigration judges managed to issue the second highest number of asylum decisions in the last two decades. The rate of denial continued to climb to a record high of 72 percent, up from 55 percent during the last year of the Obama Administration in FY 2016.
The outcome for asylum seekers continued to depend on which immigration judge was assigned to hear the case. The New York Immigration Court led the country in having the widest disparity among judges serving on the same court. Depending upon the judge, denial rates ranged from 95 percent down to 3 percent.
As has been true in earlier years, having representation greatly increased the odds of winning asylum or other relief. Represented asylum seekers won relief 31 percent of the time, while those who were unrepresented prevailed on only 18 percent of their cases. This does not reflect immigrants who wanted to seek asylum but were precluded from doing so because—unable to obtain an attorney—they were also unable to fill out the necessary asylum paperwork to even apply.
One contributing factor to the increase in asylum denial rates was that the proportion of asylum seekers who were unable to find attorneys rose. In FY 2019 just 16 percent were unrepresented. This increased to 20 percent in FY 2020.
The odds of success in receiving asylum or alternative forms of relief continued to vary greatly by the asylum seeker's nationality. While asylum seekers from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras led the list of countries who sought asylum and had their cases decided during FY 2020, Chinese nationals led the list of those granted asylum in larger numbers than any other nationality group.
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