INS v. Aguirre-Aguirre, 526 U.S. 415 (1999)

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certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the ninth circuit

No. 97-1754. Argued March 3, 1999—Decided May 3, 1999

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) permits withholding of deportation to a country when "the Attorney General determines that [an] alien's life or freedom would be threatened in such country on account of . . . political opinion." 8 U. S. C. 1253(h)(1). In general, withholding is mandatory if an alien establishes that he is more likely than not to "be subject to persecution on [that ground]," INS v. Stevic, 467 U. S. 407, 429-430. However, as relevant here, it is not available if the Attorney General finds that the alien committed a "serious nonpolitical crime" before arriving in the United States, 1253(h)(2)(C). Respondent, a Guatemalan, requested, inter alia, withholding of his deportation by the Immigration and Naturalization Service. He testified at an administrative hearing that, in protesting various government policies and actions in Guatemala, he had burned buses, assaulted passengers, and vandalized and destroyed private property. The Immigration Judge granted his request, but the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) vacated the order, finding that his were "serious nonpolitical crime[s]." Applying the weighing test it had developed in an earlier decision, the BIA concluded that the common-law or criminal character of respond-ent's acts outweighed their political nature. The Ninth Circuit remanded the case, finding the BIA's analysis deficient in three respects: It should have balanced respondent's admitted offenses against the threat of persecution; it should have considered whether his acts were grossly disproportionate to their alleged objective and were atrocious, especially with reference to Circuit precedent; and it should have considered the political necessity and success of respondent's methods.

Held: In ruling that the BIA must supplement its weighing test by examining these additional factors, the Ninth Circuit failed to accord the BIA's interpretation the level of deference required under Chevron U. S. A. Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U. S. 837. Pp. 423-433.

(a) Because the Ninth Circuit confronted questions implicating "an agency's construction of the statute which it administers," that court should have asked whether "the statute is silent or ambiguous with respect to the specific issue" before it, and, if so, "whether the agency's


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