480 U.S. 421 (1987), 85-782, Immigration and Naturalization Service v. Cardoza-Fonseca

Docket NºNo. 85-782
Citation480 U.S. 421, 107 S.Ct. 1207, 94 L.Ed.2d 434, 55 U.S.L.W. 4313
Party NameImmigration and Naturalization Service v. Cardoza-Fonseca
Case DateMarch 09, 1987
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

Page 421

480 U.S. 421 (1987)

107 S.Ct. 1207, 94 L.Ed.2d 434, 55 U.S.L.W. 4313

Immigration and Naturalization Service

v.

Cardoza-Fonseca

No. 85-782

United States Supreme Court

March 9, 1987

Argued October 7, 1986

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR

THE NINTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Section 243(h) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (Act) requires that the Attorney General withhold deportation of an alien who demonstrates that his "life or freedom would be threatened" thereby on account of specified factors. The above-quoted phrase requires a showing that "it is more likely than not that the alien would be subject to persecution" in the country to [107 S.Ct. 1208] which he would be returned. In contrast, § 208(a) of the Act authorizes the Attorney General, in his discretion, to grant asylum to a "refugee," who, under § 101(a)(42)(A) of the Act, is unable or unwilling to return to his home country because of persecution or "a well founded fear" thereof on account of particular factors. At respondent illegal alien's deportation hearing, the Immigration Judge applied the § 243(h) "more likely than not" proof standard to her § 208(a) asylum claim, holding that she had not established "a clear probability of persecution," and therefore was not entitled to relief. The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) affirmed, but the Court of Appeals reversed, holding that § 208(a)'s "well founded fear" standard is more generous than the § 243(h) standard in that it only requires asylum applicants to show either past persecution or "good reason" to fear future persecution. Accordingly, the asylum claim was remanded so that BIA could evaluate it under the proper legal standard.

Held: The § 243(h) "clear probability" standard of proof does not govern asylum applications under § 208(a). Pp. 427-449.

(a) The plain meaning of the statutory language indicates a congressional intent that the proof standards under §§ 208(a) and 243(h) should differ. Section 243(h)'s "would be threatened" standard has no subjective component, but, in fact, requires objective evidence that it is more likely than not that the alien will be subject to persecution upon deportation. In contrast, § 208(a)'s reference to "fear" makes the asylum eligibility determination turn to some extent on the alien's subjective mental state, and the fact that the fear must be "well founded" does not transform the standard into a "more likely than not" one. Moreover, the different emphasis of the two standards is highlighted by the fact that, although Congress simultaneously drafted § 208(a)'s new standard and amended § 243(h), it left § 243(h)'s old standard intact. Pp. 430-432.

Page 422

(b) The legislative history demonstrates the congressional intent that different standards apply under §§ 208(a) and 243(h). Pp. 432-443.

(c) The argument of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) that it is anomalous for § 208(a) to have a less stringent eligibility standard than § 243(h), since § 208(a) affords greater benefits than § 243(h), fails, because it does not account for the fact that an alien who satisfies the § 208(a) standard must still face a discretionary asylum decision by the Attorney General, while an alien satisfying § 243(h)'s stricter standard is automatically entitled to withholding of deportation. Pp. 443-445.

(d) The INS's argument that substantial deference should be accorded BIA's position that the "well founded fear" and "clear probability" standards are equivalent is unpersuasive, since the narrow legal question of identicality is a pure question of statutory construction within the traditional purview of the courts, and is not a question of case-by-case interpretation of the type traditionally left to administrative agencies. Pp. 445-448.

767 F.2d 1448, affirmed.

STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. BLACKMUN, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 450. SCALIA, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 452. POWELL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and WHITE, J., joined, post, p. 455.

Page 423

STEVENS, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE STEVENS delivered the opinion of the Court.

Since 1980, the Immigration and Nationality Act has provided two methods through which an otherwise deportable alien who claims that he will be persecuted [107 S.Ct. 1209] if deported can seek relief. Section 243(h) of the Act, 8 U.S.C. § 1253(h), requires the Attorney General to withhold deportation of an alien who demonstrates that his "life or freedom would be threatened" on account of one of the listed factors if he is deported. In INS v. Stevic, 467 U.S. 407 (1984), we held that, to qualify for this entitlement to withholding of deportation, an alien must demonstrate that "it is more likely than not that the alien would be subject to persecution" in the country to which he would be returned. Id. at 429-430. The Refugee Act of 1980, 94 Stat. 102, also established a second type of broader relief. Section 208(a) of the Act, 8 U.S.C. § 1158(a), authorizes the Attorney General, in his discretion, to grant asylum to an alien who is unable or unwilling to return to his home country "because of persecution or a well founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion." § 101(a)(42), 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(42).

In Stevic, we rejected an alien's contention that the § 208(a) "well founded fear" standard governs applications for withholding of deportation under § 243(h).1 Similarly, today we reject the Government's contention that the § 243(h) standard, which requires an alien to show that he is more likely than not to be subject to persecution, governs applications for asylum under § 208(a). Congress used different, broader language to define the term "refugee" as used in § 208(a) than it used to describe the class of aliens who have

Page 424

a right to withholding of deportation under § 243(h). The Act's establishment of a broad class of refugees who are eligible for a discretionary grant of asylum, and a narrower class of aliens who are given a statutory right not to be deported to the country where they are in danger, mirrors the provisions of the United Nations Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, which provided the motivation for the enactment of the Refugee Act of 1980. In addition, the legislative history of the 1980 Act makes it perfectly clear that Congress did not intend the class of aliens who qualify as refugees to be coextensive with the class who qualify for § 243(h) relief.

I

Respondent is a 38-year-old Nicaraguan citizen who entered the United States in 1979 as a visitor. After she remained in the United States longer than permitted, and failed to take advantage of the Immigration and Naturalization Service's (INS) offer of voluntary departure, the INS commenced deportation proceedings against her. Respondent conceded that she was in the country illegally, but requested withholding of deportation pursuant to § 243(h) and asylum as a refugee pursuant to § 208(a).

To support her request under § 243(h), respondent attempted to show that, if she were returned to Nicaragua, her "life or freedom would be threatened" on account of her political views; to support her request under § 208(a), she attempted to show that she had a "well founded fear of persecution" upon her return. The evidence supporting both claims related primarily to the activities of respondent's brother, who had been tortured and imprisoned because of his political activities in Nicaragua. Both respondent and her brother testified that they believed the Sandinistas knew that the two of them had fled Nicaragua together, and that, even though she had not been active politically herself, she would be interrogated about her brother's whereabouts and

Page 425

activities. Respondent also testified that, because of her brother's status, her own political opposition to the Sandinistas would be brought to [107 S.Ct. 1210] that government's attention. Based on these facts, respondent claimed that she would be tortured if forced to return.

The Immigration Judge applied the same standard in evaluating respondent's claim for withholding of deportation under § 243(h) as he did in evaluating her application for asylum under § 208(a). He found that she had not established "a clear probability of persecution," and therefore was not entitled to either form of relief. App. to Pet. for Cert. 27a. On appeal, the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) agreed that respondent had

failed to establish that she would suffer persecution within the meaning of section 208(a) or 243(h) of the Immigration and Nationality Act.

Id. at 21a.

In the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, respondent did not challenge the BIA's decision that she was not entitled to withholding of deportation under § 243(h), but argued that she was eligible for consideration for asylum under § 208(a), and contended that the Immigration Judge and BIA erred in applying the "more likely than not" standard of proof from § 243(h) to her § 208(a) asylum claim. Instead, she asserted, they should have applied the "well founded fear" standard, which she considered to be more generous. The court agreed. Relying on both the text and the structure of the Act, the court held that the "well founded fear" standard which governs asylum proceedings is different, and in fact more generous, than the "clear probability" standard which governs withholding of deportation proceedings. 767 F.2d 1448, 1452-1453 (1985). Agreeing with the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, the court interpreted the standard to require asylum applicants to present "`specific facts' through objective evidence to prove either past persecution or `good reason' to fear future persecution." Id. at 1453 (citing Carvajal-Munoz...

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