547 U.S. 183 (2006), 05-552, Gonzales v. Thomas

Docket Nº:No. 05-552.
Citation:547 U.S. 183, 126 S.Ct. 1613, 164 L.Ed.2d 358
Party Name:Alberto R. GONZALES, Attorney General, v. Michelle THOMAS et al.
Case Date:April 17, 2006
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 183

547 U.S. 183 (2006)

126 S.Ct. 1613, 164 L.Ed.2d 358

Alberto R. GONZALES, Attorney General,

v.

Michelle THOMAS et al.

No. 05-552.

United States Supreme Court

April 17, 2006

On Petition for Writ of Certiorari to the United States Court of appeals for the Ninth Circuit

OPINION

[126 S.Ct. 1613] PER CURIAM.

The Immigration and Nationality Act authorizes the Attorney General to grant an alien asylum if the alien cannot

Page 184

return to another 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), as added, §201, 94 Stat. 102,8 U.S.C. §1101(a)(42)(A) (emphasis added). The respondents, Michelle Thomas and her immediate family, applied for asylum. They checked boxes on the application form that indicated their claim rested upon fear of persecution in their native South Africa because of (1) their "political opinion[s]," and (2) their "membership in a particular social group." In proceedings before the Immigration Judge, they emphasized their fear of persecution because of their race (they are white) and their kinship with Michelle's father-in-law, "Boss Ronnie," a white South African who allegedly held racist views and mistreated black workers at the company at which he was a foreman. The Immigration Judge, focusing upon questions of race and political views, rejected [126 S.Ct. 1614] their claim. And the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), responding to the Thomases' primarily race-related arguments, summarily affirmed that decision.

On review, a Ninth Circuit panel held by a 2-to-1 vote that the Board had not adequately considered the Thomases' claim of persecution because of "membership in a particular social group, as relatives of Boss Ronnie." Thomas v. Ashcroft, 359 F.3d 1169, 1177 (2004). The Ninth Circuit took the matter en banc. The en banc court, overruling what it considered aberrant contrary Circuit precedent, unanimously held that in principle "a family may constitute a social group for the purposes of the refugee statutes." 409 F.3d 1177, 1187 (2005) (en banc) (emphasis added) (overruling, inter alia, Estrada-Posadas v. INS, 924 F.2d 916 (C.A.9 1991)). In so doing, the court relied on earlier BIA opinions holding that certain "kinship ties" fall within the statutory term. See id ., at 1180, 1184-1186.

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