INS v. Orlando Ventura
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537 U.S. 12 (2002)
OCTOBER TERM, 2002
IMMIGRATION AND NATURALIZATION SERVICE v.
ON PETITION FOR WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT
No. 02-29. Decided November 4, 2002
The Attorney General is authorized to grant asylum to an alien who demonstrates persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of a "political opinion," and is required to withhold deportation where the alien's "life or freedom would be threatened" for that reason. 8 U. S. C. §§ 1101(a)(42), 1158(a), 1253(h)(I). The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) ruled that respondent did not qualify for such protection based on the persecution he faced when he left Guatemala in 1993. The Ninth Circuit reversed and then went on to address the Government's alternative argument that respondent did not qualify for protection regardless of past persecution because conditions in Guatemala had improved to the point where no realistic persecution threat existed. Because the BIA had not considered this argument, both sides asked the court to remand the case to the BIA. The court, however, evaluated the Government's claim itself, holding that the evidence failed to show a sufficient change.
Held: Well-established administrative-law principles required the Ninth Circuit to remand the "changed circumstances" question to the BIA. Where, as here, the law entrusts the agency to make the basic decision in question, a judicial judgment cannot be substituted for an administrative one, SEC v. Chenery Corp., 318 U. S. 80, 88, and an appellate court's proper course is to remand to the agency for additional investigation or explanation, Florida Power & Light Co. v. Lorion, 470 U. S. 729, 744. The BIA has not yet considered the "changed circumstances" issue, and every consideration classically supporting the law's ordinary remand requirement does so here: The agency can bring its expertise to bear upon the matter; can evaluate the evidence; can make an initial determination; and, in doing so, can, through informed discussion and analysis, help a court later determine whether its decision exceeds the leeway that the law provides. Here, the Ninth Circuit seriously disregarded the agency's legally mandated role. It independently created a potentially far-reaching legal precedent about the significance of political change in Guatemala, a highly complex and sensitive matter, without giving the BIA the opportunity to address the matter in the first instance in light of its expertise. The court's reliance on a 1997 State Department re-
port about Guatemala is legally inadequate because the report was ambiguous about changed circumstances, and because remand could lead to the presentation of further evidence of current circumstances, which may well prove enlightening given that five years have elapsed since the report was written.
Certiorari granted; 264 F.3d 1150, reversed and remanded.
Federal statutes authorize the Attorney General, in his discretion, to grant asylum to an alien who demonstrates "persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of ... [a] political opinion," and they require the Attorney General to withhold deportation where the alien's "life or freedom would be threatened" for that reason. Immigration and Nationality Act, §§ 101(a)(42)(A), 208(a), 243(h), 66 Stat. 166, as amended, 8 U. S. C. §§ 1101(a)(42), 1158(a), 1253(h)(1) (1994 ed. and Supp. V). The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) determined that respondent Fredy Orlando Ventura failed to qualify for this statutory protection because any persecution that he faced when he left Guatemala in 1993 was not "on account of" a "political opinion." The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed the BIA's holding. 264 F.3d 1150 (2001) (emphasis added).
The Court of Appeals then went on to consider an alternative argument that the Government had made before the Immigration Judge, namely, that Orlando Ventura failed to qualify for protection regardless of past persecution because conditions in Guatemala had improved to the point where no realistic threat of persecution currently existed. Both sides pointed out to the Ninth Circuit that the Immigration Judge had held that conditions had indeed changed to that point but that the BIA itself had not considered this alternative claim. And both sides asked that the Ninth Circuit remand the case to the BIA so that it might do so. See Brief for Petitioner in No. 99-71004 (CA9), pp. 5, 6, 24; Brief for Respondent in No. 99-71004 (CA9), pp. 8, 9, 23.