McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — Migrants seeking to claim asylum have a greater chance of succeeding if they live in certain parts of the country, according to a new study.

Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University analyzed six years worth of immigration courts nationwide from 2016 to 2021 and found the asylum denial rate tended to be lower in immigration courts in New York, San Francisco, Baltimore, Chicago and Arlington, Virginia.

The TRAC report, out earlier this month, found that overall the majority of immigration judges issued asylum denials in at least 70% of all cases. But higher denial rates could be tracked to courthouses in certain parts of the United States.

Some of the courts with the highest denial rates were in Houston, Atlanta, Oakdale, California, and Los Fresnos in deep South Texas.

“Based on our research, we found that immigration judges vary widely in terms of how often they grant asylum. This certainly reflects the values and dispositions of individual judges, but it also reflects the fact that judges have very different caseloads depending on where they are in the country and the kind of docket to which they are assigned,” said Austin Kocher, a researcher with TRAC.

TRAC Graphic of asylum case denials from 2016-21

Asylum is a discretionary form of relief for migrants from deportation, and immigration judges have the right to issue it on an individual basis depending upon documents and evidence presented in court by migrants as to why they want to stay in the United States.

Requesting to stay in the country for economic gains, for instance, is not a legal reason to apply for asylum. But those who can show that they faced political persecution in their home countries, or were victimized or the subject of crimes, or are a vulnerable population — such as LGBTQ or those with ailments — have a chance of convincing an immigration judge to allow them to live in the United States with certain restrictions.

The study found that one in five immigration judges had a denial rate of over 90% involving asylum cases. One judge in Houston had a 100% denial rate for 106 asylum cases heard during the six years.

Some groups of migrants, like Chinese nationals, tended to have more favorable asylum outcomes. And regions with dense populations of those migrants tended to have lower asylum denial rates.

Austin Kocher is a researcher with TRAC at Syracuse University. (TRAC File Photo)

“Chinese nationals have had much higher rates of asylum success due to the way asylum law is written, so it makes sense that judges with large numbers of Chinese asylum cases are likely to have higher grant rates. On the other hand, detained immigrants have a much harder time applying for asylum successfully, so a judge who is assigned to a detained docket may grant asylum at a much lower rate than their peers,” Kocher said.

Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy counsel at the American Immigration Council, last month told Border Report that the location where a migrant lives and files for asylum has a significant impact on the outcome of their case.

“The location that a person seeks asylum matters because case outcomes change depending upon the judge that a person’s case is heard in front of and what state they are in because different law applies in different states of the country depending upon what federal circuit court they reside with,” said Reichlin-Melnick, whose organization is based in Washington, D.C.

“It is much easier to win asylum if you are in New York under the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals than if you are in Texas under the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. Asylum law is much harsher in some parts of the country and much better in others,” Reichlin-Melnick said.

“Asylum law is much harsher in some parts of the country and much better in others.”

Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy counsel at the American Immigration Council

“In the Atlanta immigration courts, 97-98% of all asylum applications are denied. By contrast, in New York immigration courts, more than half of all asylum applications are granted. So if you happen to be an asylum-seeker that goes to reside in Atlanta, you are almost certainly going to lose your case regardless of how strong it is because the judges in Atlanta deny virtually all cases. On the other hand, if you are going to go to New York and if you have a strong case you are very likely to win asylum,” Reichlin-Melnick said.

TRAC Graphic

The TRAC study examined 223,469 total asylum decisions from 62 immigration courts and 492 immigration judges nationwide.

The TRAC study also found that the bulk of asylum cases was heard by just six immigration courts. Those courts were in New York, San Francisco, Miami, Houston, Los Angeles and Baltimore, and they accounted for 48% of all decisions.

South Texas correspondent Sandra Sanchez can be reached at