Since 1973, the United States has granted asylum to more than 110,000 refugees who claimed fear of persecution because of their religion, nationality, political opinion or social standing, INS records show.
Ghobrial's case is not the first in which an asylum seeker has committed a violent crime in the United States, although such incidents appear rare.
Immigrants released from detention centers during their asylum process were linked to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing that killed six and injured more than 1,000, the 1993 slayings of two CIA employees in Langley, Va., and a 1997 plot to bomb a New York subway station and commuter bus.
In reaction to the World Trade Center and CIA headquarters attacks, then-President Bill Clinton signed a law placing new restrictions on asylum cases.
But Cole and other experts said foreign background inquiries would allow applicants' oppressors to spread misinformation about them.
"Would Communist China or Iraq be above making up a criminal record for someone?" asked Mark Krikorian, head of the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington.
Ghobrial had history on his side when he made his case.
Abuse of Coptic Christians by some Muslims has been well-documented in Egypt for more than 500 years, said Terry Wilfong, a professor of Egyptology at the University of Michigan. The Egyptian government encourages tolerance and opposes the violence. Still, Copts have been tortured and murdered for generations.
Hany Takla, president of St. Shenouda the Archimandrite Society, a Los Angeles-based Coptic Christian organization, said the judge was correct to take Ghobrial's tale of persecution seriously.
Times staff writer Richard Marosi contributed to this story.