[JURIST] In a landmark ruling, the US Ninth Circuit Cout of Appeals held Friday that a family unit can be "a protected social group" under federal asylum law. The court supported the refugee claim of a South African family [opinion, PDF] persecuted for a relative's racist and abusive treatment against recommendations by the US Justice Department [official website]. Michele and David Thomas and their children fled to the US in 1998 after being attacked for the actions of David's father, "Boss Ronnie", who physically and verbally abused his black employees. An immigration judge previously denied the family's request for asylum [US Citizenship and Immigration Services backgrounder] since they did not meet any of the original five grounds set out under US law for refugee status - being persecuted because of "race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion." The Los Angeles Times has more.