The El Paso Processing Center, located near the airport, is where El Paso asylum seekers are processed by the immigration service. Many of the asylum seekers present themselves at the Paso del Norte bridge and declare that they are asylum seekers. This is the process recognized by both U.S. immigration law and international human-rights laws. Of the many immigration jurisdictions where asylum seekers are processed, El Paso has been labeled “one of the worst places in America to seek asylum.” [1]

Between 2012 and 2017, El Paso, one of the twelve regional districts, ranked among the worst places for asylum seekers to be approved. While New York approved about 80% of the asylum applications and Miami approved 30%, El Paso only approved 3% during the same period. [1]

Immigration judges, unlike other judges, do “not have a great deal of independence.” Immigration judges are appointed by the Executive Branch. They are employed by the Department of Justice. They answer directly to the Attorney General. [1]

The El Paso judges have developed a reputation as a “culture of ‘no,’ on steroids,” said a New Mexico lawyer. [1]

In addition to having the reputation of being the most difficult for asylum seekers, El Paso has also been criticized for holding immigrants past their release dates.

El Paso Is Paid To Hold Migrants At The Jail

The El Paso County is paid $24 million a year to hold immigrants at the local jail. In 2018, about 7,200 migrant detainees were held at the jail. Almost three out every 10 migrants jailed in Texas public jails are incarcerated in El Paso. [2]

It is not just the money that the County receives for jailing immigrants. Between August 2018 and January 2019 “dozens of immigrants were detained from one day to six weeks past their release dates,” says an Intercept report about El Paso “illegally” detaining immigrants past their release dates. [2]

Immigration and Customs Enforcement uses detainers to request that local jails hold someone until they can be picked up by ICE. Detainers are also known as immigration “holds”. On June 5, 2017, a judge held that “Bexar County’s policy of honoring ICE detainer requests was the moving force behind violations of the Plaintiff’s Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.” [6] The reason that the Bexar’s immigration holds were ruled unconstitutional by the judge was because the “holds” are civil matters and not criminal offenses requiring the jailing of the suspect.

However, the State of Texas continues to force counties to accept ICE detainers by threatening to withhold state funds for that do not accept them.

In 2017, the El Paso Times reported that El Paso Sheriff Richard Wiles honors ICE detainers. Wiles argued that failing to honor the immigration holds would cost El Paso “about $3.6 million in grants.” [3]

El Paso Fails Inspection & Inmate Commits Suicide

In 2017, the El Paso County jail failed a state inspection and two detention officers were arrested after inmate Roberto Gallegos died at the jail. Mathew Garrett McBain and Dorian Lautret were later arrested for “tampering with government documents.” Lautret and McBain were detention officers who noted on jail records that they had checked on Gallego every 30 minutes. Jail security camera showed that both jailers had falsified the logs. [7]

Also, in 2017, Norberto Santa Cruz, from Cd. Juárez, committed suicide at the jail. Santa Cruz was being detained “for deportation”. [8]

El Paso Judges Worst At Approving Asylum

Jeremy Jong, an attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center, published a spreadsheet of “Asylum Completion Grants and Denials” by judges for 2018 and 2019. The spreadsheet lists the number of grants and denials by the judges across the nation for each year. He compiled the spreadsheet data from an open records request [FOIA #2020-12931] he filed on December 26, 2019. He received the response on January 31, 2020.

For fiscal year 2018, the national approval rate for asylum seekers, according to the spreadsheet was 33%. For 2019, the national approval rate had dropped to 29%.

The El Paso Processing Center had an approval rate 23% for 2018 and 19% for 2019 for the same period. The El Paso rates were lower than the national averages.

El Paso has four immigration judges assigned to the El Paso Processing Center. They are William Abbott, Michael S. Pleters, Stephen Michael Ruhle and Dean S. Tuckerman. [4]

In 2018, the El Paso judge with the best approval rate was Ruhle at 25%. In 2019, it was also Ruhle who had the best approval rate at 30%.

The worst approval rate for 2018 was Tuckman at 0%. In 2019, it was Abbott at 6%.

Veronica Escobar’s Husband Among Worst Asylum Approvals

Michael S. Pleters is Veronica Escobar’s husband. He was appointed by Donald Trump’s administration as an immigration judge on June 16, 2017. He began to hear cases in July 2017. Prior to his appointment, Pleters was a prosecutor for Homeland Security. [5]

In 2018, Pleters ruled on 62 cases, according to the open records information. Of those cases, he only approved four and denied the other 58 cases. That is a rate of 6% for approvals.

In 2019, Pleters heard 50 cases. Of those he approved eight and denied 42 giving him an approval rate of 16%.

See table of judges’ approval rates below.

Pleters Named in Complaint

The Immigration Justice Campaign, a joint initiative between the American Immigration Council, the American Immigration Lawyers Association, and the American Immigrant Representation Project filed a complaint with the U.S. Justice Department on April 3, 2019. [10]

The complaint was filed “on behalf of immigration practitioners and their detained clients who appear for immigration proceedings at the El Paso Processing Center” immigration court. The complaint listed three items of concern, among them “a culture of hostility and contempt towards noncitizens who appear” before the El Paso immigration judges. [10]

Michael Pleters was named in the complaint for the use of standing orders that “are troubling”. The complaint states that on January 16, 2019, an immigration lawyer witnessed Pleters “grant the government counsel” more time to submit evidence, “while not providing the same” time to the detainee. The use of standing orders by Pleters and the other El Paso immigration judges limits the asylum seekers’ ability to make their cases to remain in the country. [10]

Class Action Lawsuit Names El Paso, Among Others

On August 19, 2019, a class action lawsuit was filed in district court alleging violations of the Fifth Amendment. According to the lawsuit a “record number of immigrants currently in ICE custody are subjected to horrific, inhumane, punitive, and unlawful conditions and confinement.” [9]

The lawsuit names about 158 ICE facilities, five of which are operated by ICE directly. The rest are contracted to private prisons and sheriffs’ department jails. [9]

The El Paso Processing Center is named as having “lengthy and dangerous delays and denials of medical and mental health care”. According to the lawsuit, the delays have “contributed to a substantial number of the deaths reviewed” as detailed in Detainee Death Reviews (DDR). DDRs are created after a detainee dies. The lawsuit also points out that a 2018 Human Rights Watch documented “detainee deaths connected to dangerous and unreasonable delays in medical care at El Paso,” and other facilities. Other documented issues at El Paso included inadequate medical records and unqualified medical providers. [9]

William L. Abbott158515%
Michael S. Pleters4586%
Stephen Michael Ruhle237025%
Dean S. Tuckman0320%
El Paso Totals7424523%
National Totals13,23226,78133%
FY2018 – Complied by Martín Paredes from FOIA 2020-12931.
William L. Abbott4616%
Michael S. Pleters84216%
Stephen Michael Ruhle194430%
Dean S. Tuckman42315%
El Paso Totals3514519%
National Totals18,92145,74029%
FY 2019 – Complied by Martín Paredes from FOIA 2020-12931.


  1. Justine van der Leun, “A Culture of No,” The Virginia Quarterly Review, University of Virginia, Fall 2018.
  2. Debbie Nathan, “In El Paso Jails, Immigrants Are Incarcerated Far Past Their Release Dates,” The Intercept, March 20, 2019.
  3. Aileen B. Flores, “Sheriff honors US immigration detention requests,” El Paso Times, January 23, 2017.
  4. The United States, Department of Justice EOIR Immigration Court Listing website, accessed on September 30, 2020.
  5. Press Release, Department of Justice, Executive Office for Immigration Review, December 16, 2017.
  6. Julio Trujillo Santoyo v. United States of America et al., United States District Court, Western District of Texas San Antonio Division, 5:16-CV-855-OLG, June 5, 2017.
  7. Daniel Borunda, “Inmate’s death sparks El Paso jail inquiry; 2 officers arrested after failed inspection,” El Paso Times, November 14, 2017.
  8. Daniel Borunda, “Mexican inmate used piece of uniform to hang self,” El Paso Times, March 30, 2017.
  9. Faour Abdallah Fraihat et al v. U.S. Immigration and Customers Enforcement et al., United States District Court, Central District of California, Eastern Division, Riverside, 19-CV-01546, August 19, 2019.
  10. American Immigration Council Letter re: Administrative Complaint Regarding El Paso Service Processing Center Immigration Court Judges, April 3, 2019.

Martin Paredes

Martín Paredes is a Mexican immigrant who built his business on the U.S.-Mexican border. As an immigrant, Martín brings the perspective of someone who sees México as a native through the experience...

One reply on “El Paso Immigration Judges Among Worst For Asylum Seekers”

  1. Do we know the reasons for the high denial rates? It seems that the lack of defense lawyers, actions not understood due to language barriers, etc., are deliberate on the part of our current administration.

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