Happy Mother’s Day: Pregnant Mother of 3 Faces Asylum-Rejecting Judge After Fleeing Violence

May 11th, 2018

Judge Wilson has a 97.8% denial rate for asylum cases compared to New York judges’ 24%
+ 5 Fast Facts on Immigration Courts

New York, NY – Today, immigration attorney Heather Axford from Central American Legal Assistance (CALA) is representing a Honduran woman applying for asylum in front of notoriously punitive Judge Earle B Wilson. Judge Wilson is part of a rotation of visiting Judges taking over the dockets of Immigration Court Judges who have recently retired from the New York bench.

Heather’s client, Marion (name changed to protect identity), is Garifuna, an ethnic minority that is heavily discriminated against in Honduras. She fled Honduras where she experienced domestic violence and later received death threats after witnessing the gang rape and murder of a friend. Marion has been in this country five years, and today is the culmination of her long fight for safety and dignity for her and her children.

Camille Mackler, Director of Immigration Legal Policy at the New York Immigration Coalition, said, “On the eve of Mother's Day, it is simply heartbreaking that the Trump Administration denies due process to women - many of them mothers - who have sought asylum from domestic and sexual violence, for their own safety and that of their children. Judge Wilson’s indifference is Exhibit A for the Trump Administration's mockery of the meaning of Mother’s Day.”

When it comes to cases regarding women, Judge Wilson has repeatedly mis-applied the law and argued that fleeing from sexual violence cannot be considered as a valid claim for asylum, even when the victims show proof that they were raped, molested, or otherwise sexually assaulted, often by their own family members. In an example of his twisted logic, Judge Wilson found in one case that a woman, who had managed to travel to the United States to escape her abusive husband, had shown she has the ability to leave her abuser and therefore did not require the protection of our asylum laws.

Five Fast Facts on Immigration Courts:

1. Immigration Court is a civil procedure, not criminal. Immigration Courts are not independent; they are an administrative office in the Department of Justice, overseen by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

2. The burden of proof rests almost entirely on the immigrant who will need to prove through testimony and additional materials why they should qualify for legal status, including proof that they do not have a criminal history. The judge has the sole discretion to determine the case, and it is nearly impossible to appeal or overturn.

3. No one going through the immigration court system is guaranteed a lawyer. They may hire an attorney at their own expense, but how much time they have to do so - and how much it will cost - vary from location to location.

4. Analysis shows that Immigration Court Judges have certain biases: Men are more likely than women to order deportation, Judges who have worked as ICE prosecutors are also more likely to order deportation, and the longer a Judge has been serving, the more likely that Judge is to grant asylum.

5. The Immigration Court backlog has tripled since 2009 to more than 630,000 cases in October 2017.

To help the public better understand the complexities of immigration court, the Immigrant Advocates Response Collaborative (I-ARC) has written a briefing paper on basic operations of the Court.

Background

Judge Earle B. Wilson from Atlanta, Georgia began hearing cases in New York City on Monday, April 30th, threatening potential outcomes of dozens of asylum cases. From 2012 through 2017, Judge Wilson decided 1,114 asylum cases in Georgia. Of these he granted 25, gave no conditional grants, and denied 1,089.

The Atlanta Center of Excellence Innovation Law Lab has been monitoring Judge Wilson’s cases and behavior in the courts for several years. Their report finds that from 2012 to 2017 Judge Wilson issued the third highest number of asylum denials in the country—over 1,000—putting him at a denial rate of 97.8%, compared to the national average of 52 percent. Overall, 89% of immigration cases in Atlanta end in deportation, compared to 24% in New York City.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2017, observers in Judge Earle Wilson’s courtroom reported that during hearings he routinely displayed unprofessional behavior, including preventing attorneys from presenting their cases, belittling or diminishing the fears asylum seekers were expressing to him, and manifesting through physical behavior his disinterest in the testimony being given. In one instance, he leaned back in his chair, placed his head in his hands and closed his eyes, holding this nap-like position for over 20 minutes while a woman seeking asylum described the murders of her parents and siblings.

Before 2008, Judge Earle Wilson worked in Miami, where he denied 88.1 percent of asylum requests– 9.8 percentage points higher than the local average. He then moved to Orlando in 2008, where his denial rate was 80.3 percent– 29.2 percentage points higher than peers.

I-ARC is a collaborative of 70 immigration, legal, nonprofit services around New York State, including The Legal Aid Society, the Immigrant Justice Corps, Legal Services NYC, Sanctuary for Families, the Immigrant Defense Project, Catholic Charities Community Services, the Community Justice Clinic at the University of Buffalo School of Law, My Sister’s Place, CARECEN-NY, the Association of Pro Bono Counsel, the New York Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, and the New York Immigration Coalition. I-ARC was formed by several legal service providers building on the momentum of the legal efforts at JFK airport in January 2017 in response to President Trump’s initial Muslim Ban and the subsequent #NoBanJFK movement.


Need legal assistance?

Call the NYS Immigration Hotline at 1-800-566-7636 or view our directory of service providers here