LOCATION: Knowles' Car
DOCKET NO.: 97-1754
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
CITATION: 526 US 415 (1999)
ARGUED: Mar 03, 1999
DECIDED: May 03, 1999
Nadine K. Wettstein - Argued the cause for the respondent
Patricia A. Millett - Argued the cause for the petitioner
Facts of the case
While the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) provides asylum to aliens who can demonstrate that they will be persecuted if deported, it does not protect aliens who commit "serious nonpolitical crimes" before their arrival in the United States. After burning busses, assaulting passengers, and vandalizing private property in his native Guatemala, Juan Aguiree fled to and, sought asylum in, the United States. Despite Aguirre's claims that his acts constituted political protest, the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) overturned an administrative court's finding in favor of asylum. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit reversed as it found the BIA's analysis deficient in three parts: it failed to balance the severity of Aguirre's offenses against the threat of political persecution; it failed to qualify the atrocities of Aguiree's acts in comparison with others it faced in the past; and it did not consider whether Aguree's acts were politically necessary or successful. When the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) appealed, the Supreme Court granted certiorari.
Does the Immigration and Nationality Act require deportation boards, who face aliens that committed nonpolitical crimes prior to seeking asylum, to: balance the severity of the alien's offenses against the threat of political persecution, compare the atrocities of the crimes with others it faced in the past, or consider whether the crimes were politically necessary or successful?
Media for Immigration & Naturalization Service v. Aguirre-AguirreAudio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 03, 1999 in Immigration & Naturalization Service v. Aguirre-Aguirre
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - May 03, 1999 in Immigration & Naturalization Service v. Aguirre-Aguirre
Justice Kennedy has an opinion to announce.
Anthony M. Kennedy:
I have the opinion of the court to announce in No. 97-1754, Immigration and Naturalization Service versus Aguirre-Aguirre.
One and above Aguirre-Aguirre is a native and citizen of Guatemala.
He is the respondent here.
He was charged with deportability by the Immigration and Naturalization Service for illegal entry into this country.
Aguirre-Aguirre conceded that he was deportable but he applied for withholding of the deportation based on his expressed fear as prosecution for earlier political activities in Guatemala.
As if relevant here withholding will not apply and deportation is authorized where there are serious reasons for considering that the alien has committed a “serious nonpolitical crime” -- and that's the statutory phrase -- outside the United States prior to arrival in this country.
The Board of Immigration Appeals ordered the respondent deported, it determine that to protest certain government policies in Guatemala that he and a group of which he was a member had burned the buses, assaulted passengers, and vandalized and destroyed property in private shops.
Applying the test, it had developed in a prior decision.
Now, the Board of Immigration Appeals concluded that these were “serious nonpolitical crimes” within the meaning of the statute because their common law or criminal character outweighed their political nature.
On appeal the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit concluded that the BIA had applied an incorrect interpretation of the serious nonpolitical crime exception and it remanded for further proceedings.
According to the Court of Appeals, the Board erred in failing to consider the prosecution respondent might suffer upon return to Guatemala, whether his acts were grossly out of proportion to their objectives or were atrocious, and the political necessity and success of his methods.
We disagree with the Court of Appeals.
The Court of Appeals failed to accord the required level of deference to the interpretation adapted by the BIA.
As we have recognized before the Board should be accorded judicial deference as it gives ambiguous statutory terms, concrete meaning through a process of case-by-case adjudication.
The Court of Appeals error is clear with respect to its holding that the Board was required to balance respondent’s criminal acts against the risk of persecution he would face if returned to Guatemala.
For an alien to eligible for withholding at all, the statute requires a finding that he is at risk of persecution.
It is reasonable to decide that this factor can be considered on its own and not also as a factor in determining whether the crime itself is a serious nonpolitical crime.
The other reasons given by the court for reversing BIA also do not withstand scrutiny.
The judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with out opinion, and the opinion is unanimous.