Immigration and Naturalization Service v. Elias-Zacarias

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United States Supreme Court

502 U.S. 478

Immigration and Naturalization Service  v.  Elias-Zacarias

No. 90-1342  Argued: Nov. 4, 1991. --- Decided: Jan 22, 1992


Respondent, a native of Guatemala, was apprehended for entering the United States without inspection. In his deportation proceedings, the Board of Immigration Appeals determined that he was ineligible for a discretionary grant of asylum. In reversing that determination, the Court of Appeals ruled that a guerrilla organization's acts of conscription constitute persecution on account of political opinion and that respondent therefore had a well-founded fear of such persecution.

Held: A guerrilla organization's attempt to coerce a person into performing military service does not necessarily constitute "persecution on account of . . . political opinion" under § 101(a)(42) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(42). Even one who supports the political aims of a guerrilla movement might resist military combat and thus become the object of such coercion. Moreover, persecution on account of political opinion is not established by the fact that the coercing guerrillas had "political" motives. In order to satisfy § 101(a)(42), the persecution must be on account of the victim's political opinion, not the persecutor's. Since respondent did not produce evidence so compelling that no reasonable factfinder 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. See 8 U.S.C. § 1105a(a)(4); NLRB v. Columbian Enameling & Stamping Co., 306 U.S. 292, 300, 59 S.Ct. 501, 505, 83 L.Ed. 660. Pp. 481-484.

921 F.2d 844, reversed.

SCALIA, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and WHITE, KENNEDY, SOUTER, and THOMAS, JJ., joined.

STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BLACKMUN and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined.

Maureen E. Mahoney, Washington, D.C., for petitioner.

James Robertson, Washington, D.C., for respondent.

Justice SCALIA delivered the opinion of the Court.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).