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Asylum denied in most Las Vegas immigration court cases

Las Vegas immigration judges are among the nation’s toughest when it comes to granting asylum, a new report from Syracuse University shows.

About 91 percent of asylum requests processed through the Las Vegas immigration court were denied in the last six years. That’s compared with about 53 percent of cases nationwide, according to the report released this week by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), the university’s nonprofit data research arm.

The strictest of the four Las Vegas immigration judges is Munish Sharda, who ranks 11th out of 293 immigration judges nationwide for his asylum denial rate of 97.3 percent.

“This is a famously inconsistent area of adjudication,” said Michael Kagan, immigration lawyer and director of the UNLV Immigration Clinic.

The consequence: “Dramatically different results, possibly with very high stakes,” he said.

At border, or after arrest

Immigrants can request asylum when they arrive at the border. It can be granted if a judge finds credible claims that the asylum seeker fears persecution based on their race, religion, nationality, political beliefs or participation in a particular social group.

But sometimes, the request comes later. If U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrests an immigrant residing in the country illegally, the asylum request is a tactic used to evade deportation, Kagan said.

Immigrants swept up by ICE don’t necessarily have criminal records. Kagan’s office represents a number of children whose parents shipped them to the United States from Central American countries like El Salvador to protect them from gang violence.

Once immigrants land in court, the outcome is uncertain.

“There’s been extensive research on this for a long time, not just here, but nationally,” Kagan said. “It seems extremely clear that judges are idiosyncratic when it comes to asylum cases.”

In Las Vegas, judges’ denial rates vary widely. Although Sharda has granted asylum to only seven of the 263 cases he has reviewed since fiscal 2016, or 2.7 percent, Judge Daniel Daugherty granted 18 of 133, or 13.5 percent, according to the TRAC data.

The Las Vegas court referred calls seeking comment to the Department of Justice Executive Office for Immigration Review, which did not respond to multiple phone calls.

‘A great deal of subjectivity’

Judges’ assessments of applicants’ credibility are particularly prone to inconsistent outcomes, Kagan said.

“There’s a great deal of subjectivity,” Kagan said. “Essentially, the truth sort of becomes in the eye of the beholder.”

Part of the variance also stems from the asylum seeker’s nationality and the availability of legal representation in court, Kagan said. More than 90 percent of asylum seekers who lack an attorney are denied legal status, TRAC reports.

People denied asylum can appeal their case — a process Kagan’s office is exploring for a few clients. Sometimes, a judge will postpone removal; other times, the applicants are issued a deportation order.

“Once there is a final order of removal, it’s largely up to ICE when to execute it and how quickly,” Kagan said.

Contact Jessie Bekker at jbekker@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4563. Follow @jessiebekks on Twitter.

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