US High Court annuls asylum for white S. Africans

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WASHINGTON, Apr 17 (Reuters) The US Supreme Court overturned today 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 relatives.

The high court unanimously sided with the US 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 verbally.

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 own.

REUTERS CH RN2124

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