Justice Scalia, delivered the opinion of the Court.
The principal question presented by this case is whether a guerrilla organization's attempt to coerce a person into performing military service necessarily constitutes "persecution on account of . . . political opinion" under § 101(a)(42) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, as added, 94 Stat. 102, 8 U. S. C. § 1101(a)(42).
Respondent Elias-Zacarias, a native of Guatemala, was apprehended in July 1987 for entering the United States without inspection. In deportation proceedings brought by petitioner Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), Elias-Zacarias conceded his deportability but requested asylum and withholding of deportation.
The Immigration Judge summarized Elias-Zacarias' testimony as follows:
The Immigration Judge understood from this testimony that Elias-Zacarias' request for asylum and for withholding of deportation was "based on this one attempted recruitment by the guerrillas." Id., at 41a. She concluded that EliasZacarias had failed to demonstrate persecution or a wellfounded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion, and was not eligible for asylum. See 8 U. S. C. §§ 1101(a)(42), 1158(a). She further concluded that he did not qualify for withholding of deportation.
The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) summarily dismissed Elias-Zacarias' appeal on procedural grounds. EliasZacarias then moved the BIA to reopen his deportation hearing so that he could submit new evidence that, following his departure from Guatemala, the guerrillas had twice returned to his family's home in continued efforts to recruit him. The BIA denied reopening on the ground that even with this new evidence Elias-Zacarias had failed to make a prima facie showing of eligibility for asylum and had failed to show that the results of his deportation hearing would be changed.
The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, treating the BIA's denial of the motion to reopen as an affirmance on the merits of the Immigration Judge's ruling, reversed. 921 F.2d 844 (1990). The court ruled that acts of conscription by a nongovernmental group constitute persecution on account of political opinion, and determined that Elias-Zacarias had a "well-founded fear" of such conscription. Id., at 850— 852. We granted certiorari. 500 U.S. 915 (1991).
Section 208(a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, 8 U. S. C. § 1158(a), authorizes the Attorney General, in his discretion, to grant asylum to an alien who is a "refugee" as defined in the Act, i. e., an alien who is unable or unwilling to return to his home country "because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion." § 101(a)(42)(A), 8 U. S. C. § 1101(a)(42)(A). See INS v. Cardoza-Fonseca, 480 U.S. 421, 423, 428, n. 5 (1987). The BIA's determination that Elias-Zacarias was not eligible for asylum must be upheld if "supported by reasonable, substantial, and probative evidence on the record considered as a whole." 8 U. S. C. § 1105a(a)(4). It can be reversed only if the evidence presented by Elias-Zacarias was such that a reasonable factfinder would have to conclude that the requisite fear of persecution existed. NLRB v. Columbian Enameling & Stamping Co., 306 U.S. 292, 300 (1939).
The Court of Appeals found reversal warranted. In its view, a guerrilla organization's attempt to conscript a person into its military forces necessarily constitutes "persecution on account of . . . political opinion," because "the person resisting forced recruitment is expressing a political opinion hostile to the persecutor and because the persecutors' motive in carrying out the kidnapping is political." 921 F. 2d, at 850. The first half of this seems to us untrue, and the second half irrelevant.
As for the Court of Appeals' conclusion that the guerrillas' "motive in carrying out the kidnapping is political": It apparently meant by this that the guerrillas seek to fill their ranks in order to carry on their war against the government and pursue their political goals. See 921 F. 2d, at 850 (citing Arteaga v. INS, 836 F.2d 1227, 1232, n. 8 (CA9 1988)); 921 F. 2d, at 852. But that does not render the forced recruitment "persecution on account of . . . political opinion." In construing statutes, "we must, of course, start with the assumption that the legislative purpose is expressed by the ordinary meaning of the words used." Richards v. United States, 369 U.S. 1, 9 (1962); see Cardoza-Fonseca, supra, at 431; INS v. Phinpathya, 464 U.S. 183, 189 (1984). The ordinary meaning of the phrase "persecution on account of . . . political opinion" in § 101(a)(42) is persecution on account of the victim's political opinion, not the persecutor's. If a Nazi regime persecutes Jews, it is not, within the ordinary meaning of language, engaging in persecution on account of political opinion; and if a fundamentalist Moslem regime persecutes democrats, it is not engaging in persecution on account of religion. Thus, the mere existence of a generalized "political" motive underlying the guerrillas' forced recruitment is inadequate to establish (and, indeed, goes far to refute) the proposition that Elias-Zacarias fears persecution on account of political opinion, as § 101(a)(42) requires.
Elias-Zacarias objects that he cannot be expected to provide direct proof of his persecutors' motives. We do not require that. But since the statute makes motive critical, he must provide some evidence of it, direct or circumstantial. And if he seeks to obtain judicial reversal of the BIA's determination, he must show that the evidence he presented was
The BIA's determination should therefore have been upheld in all respects, and we reverse the Court of Appeals' judgment to the contrary.
It is so ordered.
Justice Stevens, with whom Justice Blackmun and Justice O'Connor join, dissenting.
Respondent refused to join a guerrilla organization that engaged in forced recruitment in Guatemala. He fled the country because he was afraid the guerrillas would return and "take me and kill me."
It is undisputed that respondent has a well-founded fear that he will be harmed, if not killed, if he returns to Guatemala. It is also undisputed that the cause of that harm, if it should occur, is the guerrilla organization's displeasure with his refusal to join them in their armed insurrection against the government. The question of law that the case presents is whether respondent's well-founded fear is a "fear of persecution on account of . . . political opinion" within the meaning of § 101(a)(42) of the Immigration and Nationality Act.
A political opinion can be expressed negatively as well as affirmatively. A refusal to support a cause—by staying home on election day, by refusing to take an oath of allegiance, or by refusing to step forward at an induction center—can express a political opinion as effectively as an affirmative statement or affirmative conduct. Even if the refusal is motivated by nothing more than a simple desire to continue living an ordinary life with one's family, it is the kind of political expression that the asylum provisions of the statute were intended to protect.
As the Court of Appeals explained in Bolanos-Hernandez v. INS, 767 F.2d 1277 (CA9 1985):
The narrow, grudging construction of the concept of "political opinion" that the Court adopts today is inconsistent with the basic approach to this statute that the Court endorsed in INS v. Cardoza-Fonseca, supra. In that case, relying heavily on the fact that an alien's status as a "refugee" merely makes him eligible for a discretionary grant of asylum—as contrasted with the entitlement to a withholding of deportation authorized by § 243(h) of the Act—the Court held that the alien's burden of proving a well-founded fear of persecution did not require proof that persecution was more likely than not to occur. We explained:
Similar reasoning should resolve any doubts concerning the political character of an alien's refusal to take arms against a legitimate government in favor of the alien. In my opinion, the record in this case is more than adequate to support the conclusion that this respondent's refusal was a form of expressive conduct that constituted the statement of a "political opinion" within the meaning of § 208(a).
It follows as night follows day that the guerrillas' implied threat to "take" him or to "kill" him if he did not change his position constituted threatened persecution "on account of" that political opinion. As the Court of Appeals explained in Bolanos-Hernandez:
It is important to emphasize that the statute does not require that an applicant for asylum prove exactly why his persecutors would act against him; it only requires him to show that he has a "well-founded fear of persecution on account of. . . political opinion." As we recognized in INS v. CardozaFonseca, the applicant meets this burden if he shows that there is a "`reasonable possibility' " that he will be persecuted
Accordingly, I would affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals.
"(a) As used in this chapter—
. . . . .
"(42) The term `refugee' means (A) any person who is outside any country of such person's nationality or, in the case of a person having no nationality, is outside any country in which such person last habitually resided, and who is unable or unwilling to return to, and is unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of, that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion, or (B) in such special circumstances as the President after appropriate consultation (as defined in section 1157(e) of this title) may specify, any person who is within the country of such person's nationality or, in the case of a person having no nationality, within the country in which such person is habitually residing, and who is persecuted or who has a wellfounded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. The term `refugee' does not include any person who ordered, incited, assisted, or otherwise participated in the persecution of any person on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion."
"The Attorney General shall establish a procedure for an alien physically present in the United States or at a land border or port of entry, irrespective of such alien's status, to apply for asylum, and the alien may be granted asylum in the discretion of the Attorney General if the Attorney General determines that such alien is a refugee within the meaning of section 1101(a)(42)(A) of this title."
As we recognized in INS v. Cardoza-Fonseca, 480 U.S. 421, 444-445 (1987):
"`The [House] Committee carefully considered arguments that the new definition might expand the numbers of refugees eligible to come to the United States and force substantially greater refugee admissions than the country could absorb. However, merely because an individual or group comes within the definition will not guarantee resettlement in the United States.' H. R. Rep. [96-608, p. 10 (1979)].
". . . Congress has assigned to the Attorney General and his delegates the task of making these hard individualized decisions; although Congress could have crafted a narrower definition, it chose to authorize the Attorney General to determine which, if any, eligible refugees should be denied asylum."