Explaining the Divergence in Asylum Grant Rates among Immigration Judges: An Attitudinal and Cognitive Approach


  • Linda Camp Keith,

  • Jennifer S. Holmes,

  • Banks P. Miller

  • The authors acknowledge the financial support of the Overbrook Foundation for portions of this project. The authors also wish to thank immigration attorney Paul Zoltan and the staff attorneys at HRI for their insights into the asylum process. The authors also wish to thank colleagues Tom Brunell and Clint Peinhardt for comments and suggestions on an earlier version of the manuscript.

Address correspondence to Banks P. Miller, University of Texas at Dallas—Political Science, 800 W. Campbell Rd., GR 31, Richardson, Texas 75075, USA. Telephone: (972) 883-6297; E-mail: millerbp@utdallas.edu.


In seeking to understand the variation in asylum grant rates by immigration judges (IJs), we apply a variation of the attitudinal model that we modify by incorporating a cognitive model of decision making, arguing that some pieces of information before IJs are treated objectively while others are treated subjectively. This model allows us to account for informational cues that influence decisions while assessing the impact of national interests and human rights conditions. We find that IJ policy predispositions play a dominant role, and that liberal IJs respond to applicant characteristics differently than conservatives, but also that the law constrains decision making.