Immigration Judges in Cleveland Deny Almost All Asylum Cases

Austin Kocher, PhD
3 min readAug 30, 2021


Even though immigration policy tends to focus on the U.S.-Mexico border asylum, it may come as a surprise that one of the most difficult places to obtain asylum is at the Cleveland immigration court in Ohio, far from the Southern border.

I looked at our latest data here at Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University and found that more than 90% of asylum cases decided by immigration judges in Cleveland, Ohio so far in FY 2021 have been denied, and just 10% have been approved. This is much higher than the national average where 67% of asylum cases have been denied and 33% were approved.

Most people don’t think of immigration and Ohio in the same sentence. But as an Ohio native myself who spent years studying immigration in my home state, I have seen first-hand how immigrants have become important to the social life and economy of Ohio.

Alongside a growth in immigration, however, there has also been a growth in the number of people who are facing deportation. These new findings about the high rates of asylum denial at the Cleveland immigration court, as well as the additional data from our research below, provide insight about how national immigration policy plays out at the state and local level.

I’ve included additional data below about the Cleveland immigration court updated through the end of July 2021.

New Deportation Cases

  • In FY 2021* so far, the immigration court in Cleveland, Ohio have received 1,472 new deportation cases. People from Guatemala made up the largest group of cases with 227 new cases filed, followed by cases involving people from Honduras (170), Mexico (151), Venezuela (135), and Brazil (86) (See data here.)

Immigration Court Backlog

  • A total of 15,534 deportation cases are currently pending at the Cleveland immigration court. (See data here.)
  • The backlog of deportation cases in Ohio doubled to 7,727 since the start of the Trump administration. (See data here.)
  • Across Ohio, Franklin County (Columbus) has more immigrants currently facing deportation than any other county in the state with 4,531 pending cases. Hamilton County (Cincinnati) has 3,624 pending cases, and Cuyahoga County (Cleveland) has 1,110 pending cases.
  • About one-third (33%) of people in Ohio with new deportation cases filed in the past 90 days have an attorney. (See data here.)

Outcome of Asylum Cases

  • Immigration judges in Cleveland have completed 306 asylum cases so far in FY 2021. Last year, in FY 2020, they completed 624. (See data here.)
  • Immigration judges have denied 90% of all asylum applications so far in FY 2021, and approved just 10%. This is significantly higher than the national average. By comparison, 67% of all asylum cases nationally have been denied and 33% have been approved. (See data here.)
  • The asylum denial rate at the Cleveland immigration court has exceeded the national average for years. The denial rate increased steadily from 72% in FY 2015 and has hovered around 90% for the past three years.
  • Immigration judges at the nearby Detroit immigration court denied far fewer asylum cases (60%) and approved more (40%) compared to Cleveland.
  • The high rates of denial are somewhat surprising since 92% of asylum applicants were represented by the time a judge issued a decision in the case. (See data here.)

Bond Hearings

  • So far in FY 2021, immigration judges in Cleveland have denied bond in 82% of the 119 bond hearings completed so far. This is higher than the previous year when, in FY 2020, immigration judges denied 55% of 426 bond hearings. (See data here.)

*Data for this Fiscal Year begins in October 2020 and has been updated through the end of July 2021.



Austin Kocher, PhD

I study America’s immigration enforcement system. Assistant Professor at TRAC. Graduate of OSU Geography. Online at