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Immigration and Naturalization Service v. Stevic

  (Redirected from INS v. Stevic)

Immigration and Naturalization Service v. Predrag Stevic, 467 U.S. 407 (1984), was a U.S. Supreme Court case holding that an alien seeking to avoid deportation proceedings by claiming that he would be persecuted if returned to his native land must show a "clear probability" that he will be persecuted there.

INS v. Stevic
Seal of the United States Supreme Court
Argued December 6, 1983
Decided June 5, 1984
Full case nameImmigration and Naturalization Service v. Stevic
Docket no.82-973
Citations467 U.S. 407 (more)
104 S. Ct. 2489; 81 L. Ed. 2d 321; 1984 U.S. LEXIS 100
An alien must establish a clear probability of persecution to avoid deportation.
Court membership
Chief Justice
Warren E. Burger
Associate Justices
William J. Brennan Jr. · Byron White
Thurgood Marshall · Harry Blackmun
Lewis F. Powell Jr. · William Rehnquist
John P. Stevens · Sandra Day O'Connor
Case opinion
MajorityStevens, joined by unanimous
Laws applied
Immigration and Nationality Act § 243(h), 8 U.S.C. § 1253(h)


In 1976, Predrag Stevic, a citizen of Yugoslavia, entered the United States to visit his sister in Chicago. He overstayed his visa, and the Immigration and Naturalization Service began deportation proceedings against him. At the hearing, Stevic conceded that he was deportable and agreed to leave by February 1977. In January of that year, however, he married a United States citizen, who applied for a visa on Stevic's behalf. When Stevic's wife died in a car accident shortly after the wedding, however, the visa was automatically revoked, and the INS ordered Stevic deported.

Stevic then sought withholding of deportation, claiming that he would be persecuted in Yugoslavia for anti-Communist activities in which he had engaged after his wedding. He also said that his father-in-law had been imprisoned there, also for anti-Communist activities. He claimed he feared persecution should he return to Yugoslavia. The Board of Immigration Appeals ultimately denied his application without a hearing, explaining that Stevic had not presented any further evidence he would be persecuted in Yugoslavia. The BIA also rejected Stevic's second attempt in 1980 to forestall deportation, despite a change in the law passed by Congress that arguably might have been more favorable to Stevic.

Stevic appealed the 1980 decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. That court held that the law simply required an alien to show a well-founded fear of persecution, instead of a clear probability, and remanded the case to the immigration department for a plenary hearing. The INS asked the Supreme Court to hear the case.

Opinion of the CourtEdit

This case centered on the change of the law imposed by Congress in 1980, and whether that change lowered the standard for claiming asylum from a clear probability of persecution to a well-founded fear of persecution. The Court stated that "in 1980 Congress intended to adopt a standard of withholding of deportation claims by reference to pre-existing sources of law". There were three such sources—U.S. law before 1968; the United Nations Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, to which the United States acceded in 1968; and U.S. law between 1968 and 1980.

Before 1968, U.S. law required an alien to demonstrate a clear probability of persecution in order to be eligible for withholding of deportation. But withholding of deportation was only available to aliens within the United States and not at the border; the U.S. Attorney General could not conditionally admit aliens for limited purposes until 1976. The United States acceded to the U.N. protocol on refugees in 1968, but both the President and the Senate believed that acceding to the protocol would require no modification of statutory law. In 1973, however, the BIA confronted the issue of whether acceding to the U.N. protocol modified the standard for withholding of deportation. It concluded the protocol did not change the standard. Nevertheless, the term "well-founded fear" crept into some court decisions. The Seventh Circuit concluded in 1977 that a well-founded fear of persecution was functionally equivalent to a clear probability of persecution, and the Second, Fifth, and Ninth Circuits reached the same conclusion as well.

In 1980, Congress finally conformed U.S. statutory law to the U.N. protocol. But these modifications did not clarify how great a possibility of persecution must exist before the alien can qualify for withholding of removal. The statute spoke of withholding if the alien's life "would" be threatened, not if it "might" or "could" be threatened. Other statutes dealing with the discretionary grant of asylum referred to the well-founded-fear standard; the statutes dealing with withholding of deportation, by contrast, did not. The Court thus concluded that there was some higher standard required for the alien to receive the mandatory relief of withholding of removal. The Court assumed, arguendo, that the standard for discretionary relief was lower than that for mandatory relief, and thus held that "an application [for withholding of deportation] be supported by evidence establishing that it is more likely than not that the alien would be subject to persecution on one of the specified grounds".

The Court determined that "The Court of Appeals granted respondent relief based on its understanding of a standard which, even if properly understood, does not entitle an alien to withholding of deportation under 243(h). Our holding does, of course, require the Court of Appeals to reexamine this record to determine whether the evidence submitted by respondent entitles him to a plenary hearing under the proper standard. The judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed, and the cause is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion."

Stevic was thus remanded back to the Second Circuit to determine whether the alien would be entitled to withholding of deportation under the standard the Supreme Court articulated.

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