Refugee Roulette in an Administrative Law Context: The Deja Vu of Decisional Disparities in Agency Adjudication
30 Pages Posted: 22 Jun 2008
In Refugee Roulette: Disparities in Asylum Adjudication (the Asylum Study), Professors Ramji-Nogales, Schoenholtz, and Schrag provide a comprehensive analysis of new data to document decisional disparities that undermine the fairness of asylum adjudication. The Asylum Study is an empirical project of remarkable scope. It examines patterns of asylum decisions at four different adjudication levels: at the asylum office interview, in immigration court, on administrative appeal to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), and on petition for review to the federal courts of appeals. At each level, the Asylum Study generates empirical findings to support what we knew mostly by anecdote - that there are eye-popping disparities in the grant rates of asylum adjudicators that cannot be explained by the underlying merits of the cases.
What are we to make of these findings? One could derive an answer from a variety of perspectives; my response to the Asylum Study will employ two. First, I will situate the study within a territory that is noted but not explored by its authors: the work of political scientists who conduct empirical studies of judicial decision making. Second, I will examine the Asylum Study through the lens of administrative law, where we find a deja vu component to its findings. This essay has a dual purpose: to open a multidisciplinary window onto the Asylum Study, and to delve into the broader administrative law context of the intractable problem of decisional disparities in agency adjudication.
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