Immigration Judges that Deny Asylum May Be More Likely to Get Promoted


Immigration judge appointments are political and the process appears to be more politicized every day. Even more political are appointments to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), which oversees appeals and has the power to set precedent for hundreds of judges across the United States.

Today three judges were appointed to the BIA: Judges Michael P. Baird, Sunita B. Mahtabfar, and Sirce E. Owen. The announcement was made by the EOIR, which oversees the BIA and the immigration courts. (Announcement here.)

Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash

We don’t know much about these judges from the EOIR. But because TRAC keeps careful track of immigration court data we do have their respective records on asylum cases as judges. The average asylum denial rate was 61% across the United States for the data below. Keep in mind that factors beyond the control of judges may influence these trends.

Judge Baird previously served in Atlanta and Denver. In Denver his asylum denial rates was 77% and in Atlanta, a court notorious for its low approval rates, his asylum denial rate was 91%.

Judge Mahtabfar served in El Paso. Her asylum denial rate was 99%.

Judge Sirce Owen served in Atlanta. However, TRAC has no asylum report on Judge Sirce Owen, because we only publish reports for judges with at least 100 asylum cases on record to ensure we represent judges fairly and accurately. Owen was appointed to the bench by AG Bill Barr in 2018.

Three immigration judges, all with much higher than normal asylum denial rates, and one of them with less than 100 asylum cases on their resume.

Are these appointments a carefully orchestrated attempt to shape the legal character of the BIA? Immigration lawyers’ I’ve spoken with think so. If asked, I suspect that AG Barr himself would agree and argue that it is entirely within the administration’s right to do so. Elections have consequences and all that.

The bigger question is, will the current administration’s (mostly successful) attempt to drag the immigration courts in a restrictionist direction ultimately undermine the legitimacy of the immigration court system altogether and create the conditions for a “corrective” progressive swing in the future?


But given the longstanding lack of political will to acknowledge, much less actually fix, the everyday catastrophe that is the US immigration system, no one should get their hopes up.

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

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