INS v. Stevic
467 U.S. 407 (1984)

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U.S. Supreme Court

INS v. Stevic, 467 U.S. 407 (1984)

Immigration and Naturalization Service v. Stevic

No. 82-973

Argued December 6, 1983

Decided June 5, 1984

467 U.S. 407

Syllabus

After he was ordered to surrender for deportation, respondent alien in 1977 moved to reopen the deportation proceedings, seeking relief under § 243(h) of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 (INA), which then authorized the Attorney General to withhold deportation of an alien upon a finding that the alien "would be subject to persecution" in the country to which he would be deported. The Immigration Judge denied the motion without a hearing, and was upheld by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), which held that respondent had not met his burden of showing that there was a clear probability of persecution. Respondent did not appeal this decision. Subsequently, in 1981, after receiving another notice to surrender for deportation, respondent filed a second motion to reopen, again seeking relief under § 243(h), which in the meantime had been amended by the Refugee Act of 1980 -- in conformity with the language of Article 33 of the 1968 United Nations Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees that had been acceded to by the United States -- to provide that the Attorney General shall not deport an alien if the Attorney General determines that the alien's "life or freedom would be threatened" in the country to which he would be deported. This motion was also denied without a hearing under the same standard of proof as was applied in the previous denial. The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded, holding that respondent no longer had the burden of showing "a clear probability of persecution," but instead could avoid deportation by showing a "well-founded fear of persecution," the latter language being contained in a definition of the term "refugee" adopted by the United Nations Protocol. The court concluded that the Refugee Act of 1980 so changed the standard of proof, and that respondent's showing entitled him to a hearing under the new standard.

Held: An alien must establish a clear probability of persecution to avoid deportation under § 243(h). Pp. 467 U. S. 413-430.

(a) At least before 1968, it was clear that an alien was required to demonstrate a "clear probability of persecution" or a "likelihood of persecution" to be eligible for withholding of deportation under § 243(h). Relief under § 243(h) was not, however, available to aliens at the border seeking refuge in the United States due to persecution. They could

Page 467 U. S. 408

seek admission only under § 203(a)(7) of the INA, and were required to establish a good reason to fear persecution. The legislative history of the United States' accession to the United Nations Protocol discloses that the President and Senate believed that the Protocol was consistent with existing law. While the Protocol was the source of some controversy with respect to the standard of proof for § 243(h) claims for withholding of deportation, the accession to the Protocol did not appear to raise any questions concerning the standard to be applied for § 203(a)(7) requests for admission, the "good reason to fear persecution" language being employed in such cases. Pp. 467 U. S. 414-420.

(b) While the text of § 243(h), as amended in 1980, does not specify how great a possibility of persecution must exist to qualify an alien for withholding of deportation, to the extent a standard can be inferred from the bare language, it appears that a likelihood of persecution is required. The section provides for a withholding of deportation only if the alien's life or freedom "would" be threatened, not if he "might" or "could" be subject to persecution. Respondent is seeking relief under § 243(h), not under provisions which, as amended by the Refugee Act, employ the "well-founded fear" standard that now appears in § 201(a)(42)(A) of the INA and that was adopted from the United Nations Protocol's definition of "refugee." Section 243(h) does not refer to § 201(a)(42)(A). Hence, there is no textual basis in the statute for concluding that the well-founded-fear-of-persecution standard is relevant to the withholding of deportation under § 243(h). The 1980 amendment of § 243(h) was recognized by Congress as a mere conforming amendment, added "for the sake of clarity," and was plainly not intended to change the standard for withholding deportation. There is no support in either § 243(h)'s language, the structure of the amended INA, or the legislative history for the Court of Appeals' conclusion that every alien who qualifies as a "refugee" under the statutory definition is also entitled to a withholding of deportation under § 243(h). The Court of Appeals granted respondent relief based on its understanding of a standard which, even if properly understood, does not entitle an alien to withholding of deportation under § 243(h). Pp. 467 U. S. 421-430.

678 F.2d 401, reversed and remanded.

STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

Page 467 U. S. 409

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