April 17, 2006
High Court annuls asylum for white S. Africans
By James Vicini
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Supreme Court overturned on
Monday a ruling that federal law for political asylum in the
United States covered a white South African family who faced
threats from blacks angry at the racism of one of their
The high court unanimously sided with the Justice
Department and ruled that a federal appeals court was wrong to
decide the issue on its own, instead of sending the case back
to immigration authorities for additional review.
The appeals court should have required that immigration
authorities determine the specific facts involving the family's
"kinship ties" and whether they constituted a particular social
group under the law for political asylum.
Federal law makes asylum available to those who face
persecution or well-founded fears of persecution based on race,
religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a
particular social group.
The California-based appeals court had concluded that the
Thomas family from South Africa could qualify for refugee
status and political asylum under the law.
The case involved a married couple, Michelle and David
Thomas, and their two children. The family came from Durban,
South Africa, to California in 1997.
Michelle Thomas requested asylum on grounds that the family
had experienced threats and acts of violence from blacks who
worked for her racist father-in-law, "Boss Ronnie," a
construction foreman who abused his workers physically and
At an immigration hearing, Thomas testified about a series
of incidents starting in 1996, including the poisoning of the
family dog and the vandalizing of their car.
After the second incident, she testified that her
father-in-law told her he had just had a confrontation with his
workers and that the couple should buy a gun to defend
themselves against possible retaliation.
Thomas also said a black man who asked if she knew Boss
Ronnie threatened to cut her throat and that four black men,
including one who wore overalls from the construction company,
later tried to take her daughter from her.
Instead of deciding the case, the appeals court should have
sent it back to the Board of Immigration Appeals, the Supreme
Court ruled. It said the agency has not yet considered whether
Boss Ronnie's family presented the kind of "kinship ties" that
constituted a particular social group.
The Supreme Court said it found no special circumstances to
justify the appeals court's determination of the facts on its