WASHINGTON—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 relatives.
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 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.
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.