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decided: June 21, 1993.



Stevens, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Rehnquist, C. J., and White, O'connor, Scalia, Kennedy, Souter, and Thomas, JJ., joined. Blackmun, J., filed a dissenting opinion.

Author: Stevens

JUSTICE STEVENS delivered the opinion of the Court.

The President has directed the Coast Guard to intercept vessels illegally transporting passengers from Haiti to the United States and to return those passengers to Haiti without first determining whether they may qualify as refugees. The question presented in this case is whether such forced repatriation, "authorized to be undertaken only beyond the territorial sea of the United States,"*fn1 violates § 243(h)(1) of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 (INA or Act).*fn2 We hold that neither § 243(h) nor Article 33 of the United Nations Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees*fn3 applies to action taken by the Coast Guard on the high seas.


Aliens residing illegally in the United States are subject to deportation after a formal hearing.*fn4 Aliens arriving at the border, or those who are temporarily paroled into the country, are subject to an exclusion hearing, the less formal process by which they, too, may eventually be removed from the United States.*fn5 In either a deportation or exclusion proceeding the alien may seek asylum as a political refugee for whom removal to a particular country may threaten his life or freedom. Requests that the Attorney General grant asylum or withhold deportation to a particular country are typically, but not necessarily, advanced as parallel claims in either a deportation or an exclusion proceeding.*fn6 When an alien proves that he is a "refugee," the Attorney General has discretion to grant him asylum pursuant to § 208 of the Act. If the proof shows that it is more likely than not that the alien's life or freedom would be threatened in a particular country because of his political or religious beliefs, under § 243(h) the Attorney General must not send him to that country.*fn7 The INA offers these statutory protections only to aliens who reside in or have arrived at the border of the United States. For 12 years, in one form or another, the interdiction program challenged here has prevented Haitians such as respondents from reaching our shores and invoking those protections.

On September 23, 1981, the United States and the Republic of Haiti entered into an agreement authorizing the United States Coast Guard to intercept vessels engaged in the illegal transportation of undocumented aliens to our shores. While the parties agreed to prosecute "illegal traffickers," the Haitian Government also guaranteed that its repatriated citizens would not be punished for their illegal departure.*fn8 The agreement also established that the United States Government would not return any passengers "whom the United States authorities determined to qualify for refugee status." App. 382. On September 29, 1981, President Reagan issued a proclamation in which he characterized "the continuing illegal migration by sea of large numbers of undocumented aliens into the southeastern United States" as "a serious national problem detrimental to the interests of the United States." Presidential Proclamation No. 4865, 3 CFR 50-51 (1981-1983 Comp.). He therefore suspended the entry of undocumented aliens from the high seas and ordered the Coast Guard to intercept vessels carrying such aliens and to return them to their point of origin. His executive order expressly "provided, however, that no person who is a refugee will be returned without his consent." Executive Order 12324, 3 CFR § 2(c)(3), p. 181 (1981-1983 Comp.).*fn9

In the ensuing decade, the Coast Guard interdicted approximately 25,000 Haitian migrants.*fn10 After interviews conducted on board Coast Guard cutters, aliens who were identified as economic migrants were "screened out" and promptly repatriated. Those who made a credible showing of political refugee status were "screened in" and transported to the United States to file formal applications for asylum. App. 231.*fn11

On September 30, 1991, a group of military leaders displaced the government of Jean Bertrand Aristide, the first democratically elected president in Haitian history. As the District Court stated in an uncontested finding of fact, since the military coup "hundreds of Haitians have been killed, tortured, detained without a warrant, or subjected to violence and the destruction of their property because of their political beliefs. Thousands have been forced into hiding." App. to Pet. for Cert. 144a. Following the coup the Coast Guard suspended repatriations for a period of several weeks, and the United States imposed economic sanctions on Haiti.

On November 18, 1991, the Coast Guard announced that it would resume the program of interdiction and forced repatriation. The following day, the Haitian Refugee Center, Inc., representing a class of interdicted Haitians, filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida alleging that the Government had failed to establish and implement adequate procedures to protect Haitians who qualified for asylum. The District Court granted temporary relief that precluded any repatriations until February 4, 1992, when a reversal on appeal in the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit and a denial of certiorari by this Court effectively terminated that litigation. See Haitian Refugee Center, Inc. v. Baker, 949 F.2d 1109 (1991) (per curiam), cert. denied, 502 U.S. (1992).

In the meantime the Haitian exodus expanded drama-tically. During the six months after October 1991, the Coast Guard interdicted over 34,000 Haitians. Because so many interdicted Haitians could not be safely processed on Coast Guard cutters, the Department of Defense established temporary facilities at the United States Naval Base in Guantanamo, Cuba, to accommodate them during the screening process. Those temporary facilities, how-ever, had a capacity of only about 12,500 persons. In the first three weeks of May 1992, the Coast Guard intercepted 127 vessels (many of which were considered unseaworthy, overcrowded, and unsafe); those vessels carried 10,497 undocumented aliens. On May 22, 1992, the United States Navy determined that no additional migrants could safely be accommodated at Guantanamo. App. 231-233.

With both the facilities at Guantanamo and available Coast Guard cutters saturated, and with the number of Haitian emigrants in unseaworthy craft increasing (many had drowned as they attempted the trip to Florida), the Government could no longer both protect our borders and offer the Haitians even a modified screening process. It had to choose between allowing Haitians into the United States for the screening process or repatriating them without giving them any opportunity to establish their qualifications as refugees. In the judgment of the Presi-dent's advisors, the first choice not only would have defeated the original purpose of the program (controlling illegal immigration), but also would have impeded diplomatic efforts to restore democratic government in Haiti and would have posed a life-threatening danger to thousands of persons embarking on long voyages in dangerous craft.*fn12 The second choice would have advanced those policies but deprived the fleeing Haitians of any screening process at a time when a significant minority of them were being screened in. See App. 66.

On May 23, 1992, President Bush adopted the second choice.*fn13 After assuming office, President Clinton decided not to modify that order; it remains in effect today. The wisdom of the policy choices made by Presidents Reagan, Bush, and Clinton is not a matter for our consideration. We must decide only whether Executive Order No. 12807, 57 Fed. Reg. 23133 (1992), which reflects and implements those choices, is consistent with § 243(h) of the INA.


Respondents filed this lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York on March 18, 1992 -- before the promulgation of Executive Order No. 12807. The plaintiffs include organizations that represent interdicted Haitians as well as Haitians who were then being detained at Guantanamo. They sued the Commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Attorney General, the Secretary of State, the Commandant of the Coast Guard, and the Commander of the Guantanamo Naval Base, complaining that the screening procedures provided on Coast Guard cutters and at Guantanamo did not adequately protect their statutory and treaty rights to apply for refugee status and avoid repatriation to Haiti.

They alleged that the September 1991 coup had "triggered a continuing widely publicized reign of terror in Haiti"; that over 1,500 Haitians were believed to "have been killed or subjected to violence and destruction of their property because of their political beliefs and affiliations"; and that thousands of Haitian refugees "have set out in small boats that are often overloaded, unseaworthy, lacking basic safety equipment, and operated by inexperienced persons, braving the hazards of a prolonged journey over high seas in search of safety and freedom." App. 24. In April, the District Court granted the plaintiffs a preliminary injunction requiring defendants to give Haitians on Guantanamo access to counsel for the screening process. We stayed that order on April 22, 1992, 503 U.S. , and, while the defendants' appeal from it was pending, the President issued the Executive Order now under attack. Plaintiffs then applied for a temporary restraining order to enjoin implementation of the Executive Order. They contended that it violated § 243(h) of the Act and Article 33 of the United Nations Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees. The District Court denied the application because it concluded that § 243(h) is "unavailable as a source of relief for Haitian aliens in international waters," and that such a statutory provision was necessary because the Protocol's provisions are not "self-executing." App. to Pet. for Cert. 166a-168a.*fn14

The Court of Appeals reversed. Haitian Centers Council, Inc. v. McNary, 969 F.2d 1350 (CA2 1992). After concluding that the decision of the Eleventh Circuit in Haitian Refugee Center, Inc. v. Baker, 953 F.2d 1498 (1992), did not bar its consideration of the issue, the Court held that § 243(h)(1) does not apply only to aliens within the United States. The Court found its conclusion mandated by both the broad definition of the term "alien" in § 101(a)(3)*fn15 and the plain language of § 243(h), from which the 1980 amendment had removed the words "within the United States."*fn16 The Court reasoned that the text of the statute defeated the Eleventh Circuit's reliance on the placement of § 243(h)(1) in Part V of the INA (titled "Deportation; Adjustment of Status") as evidence that it applied only to aliens in the United States.*fn17 Moreover, the Court of Appeals rejected the Government's suggestion that since § 243(h) restricted actions of the Attorney General only, it did not limit the President's power to order the Coast Guard to repatriate undocumented aliens intercepted on the high seas.

Nor did the Court of Appeals accept the Government's reliance on Article 33 of the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.*fn18 It recognized that the 1980 amendment to the INA had been intended to conform our statutory law to the provisions of the Convention,*fn19 but it read Article 33.1's prohibition against return, like the statute's, "plainly" to cover " all refugees, regardless of location." 969 F.2d, at 1362. This reading was supported by the "object and purpose" not only of that Article but also of the Convention as a whole.*fn20 While the Court of Appeals recognized that the negotiating history of the Convention disclosed that the representatives of at least six countries*fn21 construed the Article more narrowly, it thought that those views might have represented a dissenting position and that, in any event, it would "turn statutory construction on its head" to allow ambiguous legislative history to outweigh the Convention's plain text. Id., at 1366.*fn22

The Second Circuit's decision conflicted with the Eleventh Circuit's decision in Haitian Refugee Center v. Baker, 953 F.2d 1498 (1992), and with the opinion expressed by Judge Edwards in Haitian Refugee Center v. Gracey, 257 U.S. App. D.C. 367, 410-414, 809 F.2d 794, 837-841 (1987) (Edwards, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part). Because of the manifest importance of the issue, we granted certiorari, 506 U.S. (1992).*fn23


Both parties argue that the plain language of § 243(h)(1) is dispositive. It reads as follows:

"The Attorney General shall not deport or return any alien (other than an alien described in section 1251(a)(4)(D) of this title) to a country if the Attorney General determines that such alien's life or freedom would be threatened in such country on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion." 8 U.S.C. § 1253(h)(1) (1988 ed., Supp. IV).

Respondents emphasize the words "any alien" and "return"; neither term is limited to aliens within the United States. Respondents also contend that the 1980 amendment deleting the words "within the United States" from the prior text of § 243(h), see n. 2, supra, obviously gave the statute an extraterritorial effect. This change, they further argue, was required in order to conform the statute to the text of Article 33.1 of the Convention, which they find as unambiguous as the present statutory text. Petitioners' response is that a fair reading of the INA as a whole demonstrates that § 243(h) does not apply to actions taken by the President or Coast Guard outside the United States; that the legislative history of the 1980 amendment supports their reading; and that both the text and the negotiating history of Article 33 of the Convention indicate that it was not intended to have any extraterritorial effect.

We shall first review the text and structure of the statute and its 1980 amendment, and then consider the text and negotiating history of the Convention.

A. The Text and Structure of the INA

Although § 243(h)(1) refers only to the Attorney General, the Court of Appeals found it "difficult to believe that the proscription of § 243(h)(1) -- returning an alien to his persecutors -- was forbidden if done by the attorney general but permitted if done by some other arm of the executive branch." 969 F.2d, at 1360. Congress "understood" that the Attorney General is the "President's agent for dealing with immigration matters," and would intend any reference to her to restrict similar actions of any government official. Ibid. As evidence of this understanding, the court cited 8 U.S.C. § 1103(a). That section, however, conveys to us a different message. It provides, in part:

"The Attorney General shall be charged with the administration and enforcement of this chapter and all other laws relating to the immigration and naturalization of aliens, except insofar as this chapter or such laws relate to the powers, functions, and duties conferred upon the President, the Secretary of State, the officers of the Department of State, or diplomatic or consular officers . . . ." (Emphasis added.)

Other provisions of the Act expressly confer certain responsibilities on the Secretary of State,*fn24 the President,*fn25 and, indeed, on certain other officers as well.*fn26 The 1981 and 1992 Executive Orders expressly relied on statutory provisions that confer authority on the President to suspend the entry of "any class of aliens" or to "impose on the entry of aliens any restrictions he may deem to be appropriate."*fn27 We cannot say that the interdiction program created by the President, which the Coast Guard was ordered to enforce, usurped authority that Congress had delegated to, or implicated responsibilities that it had imposed on, the Attorney General alone.*fn28

The reference to the Attorney General in the statutory text is significant not only because that term cannot reasonably be construed to describe either the President or the Coast Guard, but also because it suggests that it applies only to the Attorney General's normal responsibilities under the INA. The most relevant of those responsibilities for our purposes are her conduct of the deportation and exclusion hearings in which requests for asylum or for withholding of deportation under § 243(h) are ordinarily advanced. Since there is no provision in the statute for the conduct of such proceedings outside the United States, and since Part V and other provisions of the INA*fn29 obviously contemplate that such proceedings would be held in the country, we cannot reasonably construe § 243(h) to limit the Attorney General's actions in geographic areas where she has not been authorized to conduct such proceedings. Part V of the INA contains no reference to a possible extraterritorial application.

Even if Part V of the Act were not limited to strictly domestic procedures, the presumption that Acts of Congress do not ordinarily apply outside our borders would support an interpretation of § 243(h) as applying only within United States territory. See, e. g., EEOC v. Arabian American Oil Co., 499 U.S. (1991) (quoting Foley Bros., Inc. v. Filardo, 336 U.S. 281, 285 (1949)); Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. , - , and n. 4 (1992) (STEVENS, J., concurring in judgment); see also Argentine Republic v. Amerada Hess Shipping Corp., 488 U.S. 428, 440 (1989) ("When it desires to do so, Congress knows how to place the high seas within the jurisdictional reach of a statute"). The Court of Appeals held that the presumption against extraterritoriality had "no relevance in the present context" because there was no risk that § 243(h), which can be enforced only in United States courts against the United States Attorney General, would conflict with the laws of other nations. 969 F.2d, at 1358. We have recently held, however, that the presumption has a foundation broader than the desire to avoid conflict with the laws of other nations. Smith v. United States, 507 U.S. , n. 5 (1993) (slip op., at 7).

Respondents' expansive interpretation of the word "return" raises another problem: it would make the word "deport" redundant. If "return" referred solely to the destination to which the alien is to be removed, it alone would have been sufficient to encompass aliens involved in both deportation and exclusion proceedings. And if Congress had meant to refer to all aliens who might be sent back to potential oppressors, regardless of their location, the word "deport" would have been unnecessary. By using both words, the statute implies an exclusively territorial application, in the context of both kinds of domestic immigration proceedings. The use of both words reflects the traditional division between the two kinds of aliens and the two kinds of hearings. We can reasonably conclude that Congress used the two words "deport or return" only to make § 243(h)'s protection available in both deportation and exclusion proceedings. Indeed, the history of the 1980 amendment confirms that conclusion.

B. The History of the Refugee Act of 1980

As enacted in 1952, § 243(h) authorized the Attorney General to withhold deportation of aliens "within the United States."*fn30 Six years later we considered the question whether it applied to an alien who had been paroled into the country while her admissibility was being determined. We held that even though she was physically present within our borders, she was not "within the United States" as those words were used in § 243(h). Leng May Ma v. Barber, 357 U.S. 185, 186 (1958).*fn31 We explained the important distinction between "deportation" or "expulsion," on the one hand, and "exclusion," on the other:

"It is important to note at the outset that our immigration laws have long made a distinction between those aliens who have come to our shores seeking admission, such as petitioner, and those who are within the United States after an entry, irrespective of its legality. In the latter instance the Court has recognized additional rights and privileges not extended to those in the former category who are merely 'on the threshold of initial entry.' Shaughnessy v. United States ex rel. Mezei, 345 U.S. 206, 212 (1953). See Kwong Hai Chew v. Colding, 344 U.S. 590, 596 (1953). The distinction was carefully preserved in Title II of the Immigration and Nationality Act." Id., at 187.

Under the INA, both then and now, those seeking "admission" and trying to avoid "exclusion" were already within our territory (or at its border), but the law treated them as though they had never entered the United States at all; they were within United States territory but not "within the United States." Those who had been admitted (or found their way in) but sought to avoid "expulsion" had the added benefit of "deportation proceedings"; they were both within United States territory and "within the United States." Ibid. Although the phrase "within the United States" presumed the alien's actual presence in the United States, it had more to do with an alien's legal status than with his location.

The 1980 amendment erased the long-maintained distinction between deportable and excludable aliens for purposes of § 243(h). By adding the word "return" and removing the words "within the United States" from § 243(h), Congress extended the statute's protection to both types of aliens, but it did nothing to change the presumption that both types of aliens would continue to be found only within United States territory. The removal of the phrase "within the United States" cured the most obvious drawback of § 243(h): as interpreted in Leng May Ma, its protection was available only to aliens subject to deportation proceedings.

Of course, in addition to this most obvious purpose, it is possible that the 1980 amendment also removed any territorial limitation of the statute, and Congress might have intended a double-barreled result.*fn32 That possibility, however, is not a substitute for the affirmative evidence of intended extraterritorial application that our cases require. Moreover, in our review of the history of the amendment, we have found no support whatsoever for that latter, alternative, purpose.

The addition of the phrase "or return" and the deletion of the phrase "within the United States" are the only relevant changes made by the 1980 amendment to § 243(h)(1), and they are fully explained by the intent to apply § 243(h) to exclusion as well as to deportation proceedings. That intent is plainly identified in the legislative history of the amendment.*fn33 There is no change in the 1980 amendment, however, that could only be explained by an assumption that Congress also intended to provide for the statute's extraterritorial application. It would have been extraordinary for Congress to make such an ...

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