Importance of Nationality in Immigration Court Bond Decisions
The chances of being granted bond at hearings before immigration judges vary markedly by nationality, as do required bond amounts. These differences among nationality groups are striking and are the focus of this report. Currently more than three out of every four individuals from India or Nepal, for example, were granted bond, while only between 11 and 15 percent of immigrants from Cuba received a favorable ruling. And those from China were less likely to receive a favorable ruling than are those from India or Nepal. See Figure 1.
Figure 1. Bond Hearing Outcome for Detained Immigrants
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The required bond amount also varies widely by nationality. For example, the median bond for immigrants from the Philippines was just $4,000, while those from Bangladesh were required to post $10,000-$12,000.
Even for immigrants of the same nationality, experiences can differ depending upon their hearing location. Because both nationality as well as court hearing location appear to influence bond outcomes, disentangling their interconnections can be challenging. To illustrate this complex interplay, the report examines in more detail the impact of bond hearing location for immigrants from Mexico versus those from India.
Findings in this report are based on a detailed analysis of court records covering all of FY 2018 and the first two months of FY 2019 by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University. The bond hearing-by-bond hearing records were obtained by TRAC under the Freedom of Information Act from the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR).
A brand new free web query tool released with this report allows the public for the first time to examine in detail the bond experience by hearing location for any nationality. The new app covers outcomes in Immigration Court bond hearings as well as subsequent case dispositions after detained immigrants are granted bond. Data now available cover the period October 2000 through November 2018.
Nationalities Seeking Bond Hearings
Nationally, currently less than half of detained immigrants with bond hearings were granted bond - 48 percent during FY 2018, and 43 percent thus far during FY 2019. The median bond amount was $7,500 in FY 2018, and rose to $8,000 during the first two months of FY 2019.
These overall results, however, conceal substantial variability. Detained immigrants' backgrounds should, of course, be expected to be related to bond hearing outcomes. And there is much diversity in those seeking to be released on bond.
A total of 190 different nationalities sought bond hearings during FY 2018. Not surprisingly, bond seekers from Mexico continue to outnumber any other nationality by wide margins. However, their proportion has dropped from 56 percent during FY 2012 to 37 percent during the first two months of FY 2019.
The second largest group with bond hearings were individuals from Guatemala. For the last decade their numbers have been steadily rising year-by-year.
In third place were detained immigrants from India seeking bond hearings. Their numbers suddenly surged in FY 2018, with a three-fold increase over FY 2017. This unexpected jump may reflect the sharp change in enforcement and detention strategies of the current Trump administration which is targeting increasing numbers of long-time residents, including those who have overstayed their visas rather than entered illegally.
Currently, individuals from Honduras and El Salvador are the fourth and fifth largest nationality groups, respectively, seeking bond hearings before immigrations judges. Formerly in second place, numbers from El Salvador have been declining since FY 2015. In contrast, those from Honduras have been growing.
Bond Outcomes by Nationality
As noted above, the current likelihood of being granted bond varies by nationality from almost nine out of ten down to only one in ten who are granted bond. More striking still is that nationalities with particularly high odds of being granted bond, also tend to have higher required bond amounts. And those with especially low chances of success at bond hearings also had lower required bonds for those who were granted bond. This is shown in the scatterplot in Figure 2 where median bond amounts are plotted against the percentage granted bond for each of the 38 nationalities that had at least 100 bond hearings during FY 2018.
Figure 2. Immigration Court Bond Outcomes by Nationality, FY 2018
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Detained immigrants from India had the highest odds of being granted bond - 87 percent during FY 2018, and 73 percent so far during FY 2019. However, they also had the highest required median bond amounts -- $17,000 in FY 2018 and $20,000 in FY 2019. (This nationality group appears as the plotted symbol in the upper right corner of Figure 2.) Similarly, detained immigrants from Nepal, China, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh typically also had high required bond amounts, combined with higher odds of being granted bond. They also can be seen as plotted symbols, but slightly lower and to the left of India's. Table 1 at the end of the report gives the exact values being plotted for each nationality.
At the other extreme, detained immigrants from Cuba, Liberia and the Philippines were the three nationalities with the lowest chance of being granted bond, yet also among the lowest required bond amounts when bond was granted - just $4,000 to $5,000. The plotted symbols for these nationalities appear in the lower left hand corner of Figure 2.
However, as shown in Figure 2, this relationship appeared to hold true only at the extremes. The majority of nationalities had bond amounts that varied very little - typically in the $7,000-$7,500 range - even though their odds of being granted bond varied widely between roughly 30 and 70 percent.
Contrasting Outcomes by Court Location: Immigrants from Mexico versus India
Despite these pronounced differences in bond outcomes by nationality, at the same time wide variation among hearing locations often continues to exist within the same nationality. Restricting comparisons to hearing locations that conducted at least 100 bond hearings for those from Mexico, the odds of prevailing varied from 26 percent to 68 percent, while the median required bond amount ranged from $3,500 all the way up to $12,000.
These ranges clearly overlap bond outcomes for the same set of hearing locations for detained immigrants from India. For these individuals, the odds of prevailing went as low as 17 percent at one location, with just $4,500 as the required bond. Thus, for some locations, results for individuals from India could be less favorable than those awarded Mexicans at other locations. See Table 2 below.
The influence of both nationality and location is clearly evident when hearing location outcomes for these two nationalities are plotted on the same graph. See Figure 3. Again, this scatterplot displays the odds of being granted bond (on the horizontal axis) against the median required bond amount for those granted bond (on the vertical axis). Outcomes for individuals from Mexico are shown as dark blue triangles, while results obtained by detained immigrants from India are plotted as orange circles. Each triangle or circle represents the outcome at a particular hearing location.
Figure 3. Bond Outcomes by Immigration Court Hearing Location, Oct. 2017 - Nov. 2018
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If there was little variation among hearing locations when we controlled for nationality, then plotting symbols of the same color would be closely bunched together. Instead they are quite scattered. If nationalities always had different outcomes once we controlled for the hearing location, then the two colored clouds of points should appear as distinctly different clouds. We see, however, that the two sets of colored plotting symbols overlap one another. Nonetheless, we also see a distinctly different pattern for the two nationality groups with the orange circles tending to appear in a cloud in the upper right quadrant of the plot. This indicates that there are many more hearing locations for individuals from India where the odds of being granted bond as well as the required bond amount are significantly higher than is the case for immigrants from Mexico. Clearly, both nationality and hearing location each play significant roles in influencing bond outcomes here.
Brand New Bond Outcomes App
Given the increased public discussion over who ICE should detain and how long they should remain detained, TRAC has developed a new web query bond outcomes tool. The tool allows users to drill in to examine, month-by-month, state-by-state, hearing location-by-hearing location, outcomes at Immigration Court bond hearings and how these may differ by nationality, as well as by whether the detained immigrant had representation.
In addition, for the first time, users can see what happens after bond is granted. The app allows users to follow the same individuals by easily switching views between bond hearing outcomes and the subsequent outcome of the deportation case. Does the court order them removed, or are they found to be entitled to remain in the U.S.? Just how many who were granted bond remain detained, presumably because they are unable to post the required bond? For those released on bond, the app allows users to drill in and see how many appear versus fail to appear at their subsequent hearing on their deportation case.
 A July 2018 TRAC report that focused on the impact of hearing location briefly noted that locational differences persisted even within a given nationality group. "[S]harp locational differences persisted irrespective of the nationality of the immigrant seeking release from custody. ... For example, outcomes depending on court location for Mexicans varied from a success rate of 67.5 percent all the way down to only 15.3 percent. The differential for those from Guatemala - the nationality with the second largest number of bond hearings - was even greater. Depending on court location, bond grant rates for Guatemalans ranged from 84.7 percent down to only 14.4 percent."
 For example, does a particular hearing location set lower bond amounts because more of its workload was made up of nationalities that tend to have much lower bonds? Or were lower bonds there a result of the prevailing "culture" including ICE practices and how particular judges at that location tend to rule?
 Many factors no doubt influence why bond outcomes differ by court location. The relative availability of representation at some detention locations may make a difference; different judges are based at each court location who may differ in the decisions they tend to reach. We also do not know whether ICE policies on custody differ in different parts of the country which could influence who is detained, or what ICE argues at the hearing is a suitable or necessary bond amount. TRAC has been seeking companion data from ICE on its bond practices. The agency, however, has not provided this information.
 It should be noted that because hearing locations tend to have more applicants from Mexico than from India, less natural variation in bond outcomes among hearing locations would be expected for Mexicans. This is in part the reason why plotting symbols for Mexicans appear more tightly clustered in Figure 3 than those for immigrants from India.