What happened today wasn't a hearing, but rather just announcing a decision in a deportation case. The plus side was that it didn't take long, and the judge was kind enough to stick around to answer some of my questions. Lessons worth remembering:
Few people are able to make a living on asylum cases (which is what this was) even though that's generally the most interesting kind of immigration law work. Instead, most successful immigration law attorneys focus on business immigration cases and take this kind of thing pro bono.
There often isn't any way to verify the respondent's statements during asylum hearings, and decisions get made based on whether the judge finds the statements credible. In this case, if the respondent could have convincingly claimed that the Mara Salvatrucha gang in his Honduras home town was threatening him not because they wanted money but because he was trying to fight the political corruption which supported the gang, then he might have been granted asylum (admittedly that was my idea rather than the judge's, but she didn't shoot it down). However, how could a claim like that be disproven? Put bluntly, why doesn't everybody try to make that argument, even if what they're really fleeing is ordinary crime?