LOCATION: Northern District Court of New York
DOCKET NO.: 90-1342
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1991-1993)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
CITATION: 502 US 478 (1992)
ARGUED: Nov 04, 1991
DECIDED: Jan 22, 1992
James Robertson - on behalf of the Respondent
Maureen E. Mahoney - on behalf of the Petitioner
Facts of the case
Media for Immigration and Naturalization Service v. Elias-ZacariasAudio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 04, 1991 in Immigration and Naturalization Service v. Elias-Zacarias
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - January 22, 1992 in Immigration and Naturalization Service v. Elias-Zacarias
William H. Rehnquist:
The opinion of the Court in No. 19-1342, Immigration and Naturalization Service versus Elias-Zacarias will be announced by Justice Scalia.
This case is here on petition for certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
The respondent, Elias-Zacarias, is a native of Guatemala.
He was apprehended in July of 1987 for entering the United States illegally.
In his deportation proceedings he testified that the previous January, two armed uniformed guerillas had appeared at his family's home in Guatemala and had asked him and his parents to join forces with him.
When he and his parents refused, the guerillas asked them why, told them that they would be back and advised them to think it over.
Elias-Zacarias testified that he did not want to join the guerillas because he was afraid the government would retaliate against him and his family if he did.
He said that the reason he left Guatemala two months later was that he was afraid that the guerillas would return.
Elias-Zacarias offered evidence that the guerillas in fact twice returned in continued efforts to recruit him.
The Board of Immigration Appeals determined that Elias-Zacarias was ineligible for asylum which is available at the Attorney General's discretion to anyone who has, in the words of Section 101(a)(42) of the Immigration Act, "a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion".
In reversing the BIA's determination, the Court of Appeals ruled that a guerilla organization's acts of conscription constitute persecution on account of political opinion, and that Elias-Zacarias therefore had a well-founded fear of persecution on account of political opinion.
In order to reverse the BIA, the Court of Appeals would have to find that on the facts presented, eligibility for asylum is not only a possible or even a probable finding but that it is the only reasonable one.
The question before us, therefore, is whether a guerilla organization's attempt to coerce a person into performing military service necessarily constitutes persecution on account of political opinion within the meaning of the Immigration and Nationality Act.
We hold that it does not.
Even a person who supports the political aims of a guerilla movement might resist military combat because of unwillingness to put his life at risk for example, and thus, become the object of such coercion.
Moreover, persecution on account of political opinion is not established by the fact that the coercer, the guerillas, had political motives in order to satisfy Section 101(a)(42) the persecution must on account of the victim's political opinion, not the persecutor's political opinion.
Since Elias-Zacarias did not produce evidence so compelling that no reasonable fact finder could fail to find the requisite fear of persecution on account of political opinion, the Court of Appeals had no proper basis to set aside the BIA's determination.
Justice Stevens has filed a dissenting opinion which Justices Blackmun and O'Connor have joined.