Couple loses bid to stay in USA

A three-judge panel says Gormleys weren’t persecuted in South Africa.

In a swift decision, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday denied political asylum to Carol and Michael Gormley, South Africans living on Bainbridge Island who appeared before the court April 1. The decision upheld an earlier ruling by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

The Gormleys have fought a four-year battle to stay in the United States and to remain on the island; they joined Carol Gormley’s daughter, Maureen Cruz here in 1999, after they could not find work in post-apartheid South Africa.

They claimed that that nation’s Employment Equity Act, intended to correct historical job discrimination against black South Africans, prevented the couple, who are white, from finding jobs.

Carol Gormley, who with her husband works at the Bainbridge Safeway, learned of the court’s decision from a Seattle reporter during a phone interview.

“He said, ‘I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news – you’ve been denied,’” Carol Gormley said. “I was flabbergasted. All I could do was just go over to Safeway. When I got there (co-worker) Sue (Wilmot) was on the checkstand and Mike was bagging. I said, ‘Sue, Mike...’ and all I could say was, ‘We’ve been denied.’ And cry my eyes out.”

The Gormleys still have several options, said their attorney, Carol Edward of Seattle. The couple could file a motion for a reconsideration, or petition for Supreme Court review and a “deferred action” for health reasons; both Gormleys are receiving medical treatments they say would be unavailable in South Africa.

“Obviously, we’re disappointed,” Edward said. “The argument in front of the judges seemed favorable. They seemed to understand that it (Employment Equity Act) wasn’t affirmative action, that it was in fact discriminatory. I’m still trying to figure out the politics of (the decision).”

Circuit Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw, writing for the three-judge panel, opined that the Gormleys’ loss of jobs and inability to find new work did not meet the legal definition of economic persecution.

The opinion cited a South African Department of Labour position – “employers cannot require the dismissal of non-designated group and their replacement with designated [non-white] employees” – as proof that the South African law does not demonstrate “purposeful economic persecution.”

The opinion also pointed to a 2002 case heard in the South African Labour Court, which rejected as unconstitutional an employment equity plan that barred whites from receiving promotions.

But the Gormleys, who held jobs for decades – Michael building scaffolds, and Carol working for the government-run railway – said being middle aged and little educated, as well as white, greatly diminished their prospects.

“We tried, we definitely tried to get a job,” Carol Gormley said. “We were willing to sweep the streets. We were willing to clean houses or tarmac the roads. We couldn’t get a job like that. We were told ‘Sorry, your skin’s not the right color.’ What do you do in a case like that?”

For Wilmot and other Safeway supporters, the answer is: Keep fighting.

“What I think we need now from the community is, if anyone would like to write a letter of support to contact their congressman,” Wilmot said. “This isn’t the end of the line. We’re not going to let them go back.”

A craft sale to raise money for the Gormleys’ legal fees will be held May 15 at the Safeway parking lot. Donations of crafts are sought; call 780-5267.

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