INS V. CARDOZA-FONSECA, 480 U. S. 421 (1987)

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U.S. Supreme Court

INS v. Cardoza-Fonseca, 480 U.S. 421 (1987)

Immigration and Naturalization Service v. Cardoza-Fonseca

No. 85-782

Argued October 7, 1986

Decided March 9, 1987

480 U.S. 421


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 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. 480 U. S. 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. 480 U. S. 430-432.

Page 480 U. S. 422

(b) The legislative history demonstrates the congressional intent that different standards apply under §§ 208(a) and 243(h). Pp. 480 U. S. 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. 480 U. S. 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. 480 U. S. 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. 480 U. S. 450. SCALIA, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 480 U. S. 452. POWELL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which REHNQUIST, C.J.,and WHITE, J., joined, post, p. 480 U. S. 455.

Page 480 U. S. 423

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