Panel Paper: “Immigrants Are Taking Our Jobs!”: The Influence of Labor Market Conditions on Asylum Claims

Saturday, November 9, 2019
Plaza Building: Concourse Level, Plaza Court 3 (Sheraton Denver Downtown)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Melina Juarez, Western Washington University and Joaquin Alfredo-Angel Rubalcaba, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

The growing focus on enforcement of immigration policies has contributed to the mass growth of immigrant detention and deportation. These dynamics have in turn saturated immigration courts. The average wait time for deportation and asylum hearings is currently 480 days, which in a majority of cases is spent in detention. This growth is parallel to and informed by a variety of anti-immigrant ideologies such as white supremacy and nativism, the later placing special emphasis on the perceived economic competition immigrants create for U.S. born workers. The judiciary is often viewed as being insulated from such dynamics. Yet, previous work investigating federal judges’ behavior point to multiple sources of influence on judges’ case decisions. This paper seeks to contribute to this extant literature by examining if economic conditions that inform anti-immigrant sociopolitical dynamics impact judicial decisions on asylum cases. We utilize Census data merged with U.S. Department of Justice data on asylum cases between 2014 and 2017, collected through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, to test this question. Preliminary findings show that the U.S labor market affects the rate of asylum denials across immigration courts and judges—as employment opportunities increase, the rate of asylum denials decreases. A 1-percentage point increase in jobs growth decreases asylum denials by approximately 3-percentage points. This implies, on average, a decrease in approximately 2.3 asylum denials per judge, or 575 in total, during periods of labor market expansion. These findings suggest that the decision among immigration court judges to grant or deny an asylum request is in some part marginally associated to labor market conditions. These findings are especially relevant to immigration lawyers and advocates as well as researchers and decision-makers who seek to further understand immigration politics and policies in the U.S.