Volume 108
Issue 3
March '20

An Empirical Study of Political Control over Immigration Adjudication

Written By: Catherine Y. Kim & Amy Semet

Abstract

Immigration plays a central role in the Trump Administration’s political agenda. This Article presents the first comprehensive empirical assessment of the extent to which immigration judges (IJs), the administrative officials charged with adjudicating whether a given noncitizen will be deported from the United States, may be influenced by the presidential administration’s political preferences.

We constructed an original dataset of over 830,000 removal proceedings decided between January 2001 and June 2019 after individual merits hearings. First, we found that every presidential administration—not just the current one—disproportionately appointed IJs with backgrounds in the former Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Department of Homeland Security, or the Department of Justice—agencies responsible for prosecuting noncitizens.

Second, using logistic regression to control for more than a dozen variables that might impact a decision to order removal, we found that the identity of the administration that appointed an IJ is not a statistically significant predictor of the likelihood of an IJ ordering removal. That is, after controlling for other variables, we did not find that Trump-appointed judges were any more likely to order removal than appointees of other Presidents.

Finally, we found that the presidential administration in control at the time of the decision is a statistically significant predictor of removal rates in certain circumstances. For example, IJs who were appointed by President George W. Bush (Bush II) were more likely to order removal during the Trump presidency than during prior administrations. Specifically, when all other variables were held constant, Bush II-appointed IJs were 22% less likely to order removal during the Obama presidency than during the Trump presidency and 22% less likely to order removal during the Bush II presidency than during the Trump presidency. These results suggest that a sitting President may exert some measure of direct or indirect influence over IJs’ removal decisions, undermining the assumption of administrative adjudicators’ independence.

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