Island couple ordered to leave country

Michael and Carol Gormley face imminent deportation to South Africa. - Review file photo
Michael and Carol Gormley face imminent deportation to South Africa.
— image credit: Review file photo

One avenue of appeal remains for Michael and Carol Gormely.

Mike Gormley stacked fruit at Village Safeway Thursday as if the day were an ordinary one.

The grocery worker – a familiar face to islanders who shop at the store – placed each apple on a growing pyramid, his slender fingers turning the stems precisely to the left.

One wouldn’t guess from his demeanor that Gormley and his wife Carol had earlier that day received long-dreaded news: notice of their impending deportation.

The letters from the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service say the Gormleys must report to the Tukwila office of Homeland Security Enforcement and Detention Service at 9 a.m. March 11, to be escorted onto a commercial flight to their native South Africa.

“I was actually in the kitchen doing some breakfast dishes when there was a knock at the door,” Michael Gormley said. “I opened the door and there was our regular postman. He said to me that he had two letters for me, and could I kindly sign for them.

“When he held them up, I recognized the INS logo. So I knew straightaway what it was.”

While the Gormleys knew the deportation orders could be forthcoming – the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals denied the couple political asylum in April 2004 – neither could believe that their long fight to stay in the United States might be close to an end.

The Gormleys joined Carol’s daughter, Maureen Kruse, on Bainbridge Island after the white couple lost their jobs and couldn’t find new work after the South African practice of racial segregation known as apartheid was abolished in 1991.

The Gormleys sought political asylum in the United States, based on the notion that the South African Employment Equity Act – aimed at giving blacks a leg up in the job market – amounted to economic persecution of whites.

The middle-aged Gormleys had worked at the same jobs for years – Michael as a scaffolding contract supervisor, and Carol for the government-run railway – but could no longer find employment in their homeland by virtue of their race.

Since their first hearing with INS in February 2000, the Gormleys have appeared before INS officials two more times, then made an appeal to the Ninth Circuit. They also changed attorneys to find expert representation at the firm of Carol S. Edwards, president of Seattle’s Immigration Attorney Association.

The Gormleys’ campaign has been supported by the Bainbridge Island community, rallied by fellow Safeway worker and friend Sue Wilmot.

Islanders have donated money for legal fees to the fund Wilmot set up at Key Bank. Wilmot, who accompanied the couple to their court dates and meetings craft and bake sales endorsed by Safeway management.

“She’s been our guiding light,” Gormley said. “But we are very, very grateful for everyone’s support.”

Stay, or go

Now the couple’s last resort is a “stay of removal” and request for “deferred action,” motions filed with Robert Okin, district director of the Seattle branch of the United States Customs and Immigration Service by their attorney earlier in the week

If the motions are approved, the Gormleys would be granted a year’s respite from deportation for health reasons, a stay that could be renewed on a yearly basis.

Michael Gormley, who suffers from acute congestive heart failure and has had two open-heart surgeries, was told by South African doctors in 1998 that he had just five years to live. Here, with proper medication and care, his condition has stabilized although he must take 13 medications daily.

“I have a very good water-retention tablet, which would likely be the only medication I’d receive in South Africa,” Gormley said, “and I’m not even sure I’d receive that.”

Without full-time employment in South Africa, the Gormleys would not have the medical insurance to underwrite health care.

“Our chances of finding full-time work are not just slim-to-none,” Gormley said. “They are more like none.”

The gravity of the health risk to Gormley is emphasized by his doctor at Virginia Mason Hospital in Seattle, John Holmes, who notes that Gormley’s condition must be followed closely. But that is much more likely if the couple is allowed to remain in the United States.

It is uncertain whether the INS will review the motions in the weeks remaining before the Gormley’s date of departure.

The couple hope the support of U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee will speed things along; they have also received a letter of support from U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell.

“We want their motions to be viewed as urgent,” Wilmot said, “(and) hopefully that’ll bring their attention to it.”

While the five-year fight has taken a toll – they have incurred more than $12,000 in legal fees – the Gormleys will forge on.

“Carol and I have lived for five years now with an uncertain future,” Michael Gormley said, “and I don’t see the end of it yet. There’s still hope. And while there’s still hope, it’s worth it to proceed.”

There will be a community candlelight vigil for the Gormleys at 7 p.m. Feb. 20 at the gazebo in the Safeway parking lot. Call 780-5267 for more information. To volunteer assistance, email or contribute to the Carol and Michael Gormley Fund at Key Bank.

For Carol Gormley, the precariousness of Michael’s health makes the thought of being forced to leave unbearable.

“I’m pleading for husband’s life now, I really am,” Carol said. “Because he won’t survive once we get back there. He won’t.”

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