A study to be published in the Stanford Law Review finds wide variation between cities and judges in the rate at which refugees are granted asylum. To win asylum, an applicant has to convince an immigration judge that he would face persecution based on race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. Judging from cases decided between January 2000 and August 2004, that task seems to be relatively easy in San Francisco, where 54 percent of refugees won asylum, and considerably harder in Atlanta, where 12 percent did. (The national average was 40 percent.) Some of the differences between cities may be due to different mixes of refugees; refugees from China, for example, have better chances than refugees from Haiti.
The differences between judges are harder to explain. In Miami, The New York Times reports, "Colombians had an 88 percent chance of winning asylum from one judge…and a 5 percent chance from another judge in the same court." Some of the inter-judge variation is linked to sex: "Female immigration judges grant asylum at a 44 percent higher rate than their male colleagues," perhaps partly because they are more likely to have worked for "organizations that defended the rights of immigrants or the poor" (an explanation that also leaves room for the theory that women are, depending on your point of view, either more caring and compassionate or more likely to let emotion interfere with faithful application of the law).
"Oftentimes, it's just the luck of the draw," an immigration lawyer tells the Times. "It's heartbreaking. How do you explain to people asking for refuge that even in the United States of America we can't assure them they will receive due process and justice?"