After immigration agents picked up a total of 336 undocumented immigrants earlier this year, many of them Central American teenagers who came to the US as unaccompanied minors, statistical analysis showed that over a third of the people were detained in Atlanta, more than in any other ICE jurisdiction.
Statistics also showed Justice Department-appointed judges in Atlanta’s court denied asylum 98 percent of the time in the 2015 fiscal year, the highest rate of any court that heard more than five cases. 88% of cases that went before Atlanta immigration courts ended with a removal order, while the national average showed immigration judges denied about 52 percent of asylum claims and only 69 percent resulted in a deportation order.
ICE is also currently conducting raids on Central Americans who came to the U.S. in or after the 2014 surge in border apprehensions of mothers and children. Officials stated they will be targeting people who were already denied asylum or other deportation relief in the courts, which would be the 98 percent of cases Atlanta judges turned away.
Attorneys who have experience in multiple courts said the judges in Atlanta seem particularly reticent to grant relief, especially asylum, and are often aggressive in their questioning of people who say they’ve experienced trauma.
All five Atlanta immigration court judges have higher than average rates of denial for asylum, according to data from Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, or TRAC.
Judge Earle Wilson denied asylum about 94 percent of the time from fiscal years 2009 to 2014, the 17th-highest denial rate in the nation. Judges William Cassidy and Pelletier denied more than 80 percent of asylum claims, and Judges Wayne Houser and Michael Baird denied about 60 percent. The national average was about 49 percent, according to TRAC.
Judges may want to give a fair hearing, but it’s difficult when they’re trying to get through seven cases a day, said Carolina Antonini, who has practiced immigration law in Atlanta for more than 20 years. “It’s insane to require a person to do that,” she said.
“I hope people’s eyes are opened and that people understand that a lack of due process is not necessarily the result of evil actions,” Antonini said. “Sometimes the lack of due process is because the systems are broken. The system could be full of good people — it’s just not working.”