South African Can Stay In U.S. Until Hearing, Judge Rules
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ A black South African who jumped ship off the California coast last month can stay in the United States until a ruling on his asylum request, an immigration judge ruled Wednesday.
Patrick Mtoto, 20, said after the decision by U.S. Immigration Judge Phillip Leadbetter that he did not think he could go back home. ″The police will hold me there,″ he said.
But Mtoto’s attorney, Mark Silverman, said he was optimistic about the South African’s chances for asylum.
″We believe Mr. Mtoto has an extremely strong case,″ Silverman said. ″He has been identified as an opponent of the apartheid regime and he has spoken at rallies. We believe he will be targeted (for prosecution) if he returns to South Africa.″
The nation’s black majority is ruled by a white minority under a system of racial separation known as apartheid.
Mtoto must submit his asylum application on Dec. 1, and the hearing will take place May 20, 1988 because of a case backlog, Silverman said.
Mtoto, who he has been living with the pastor of an Oakland church, jumped from a Norwegian-owned tanker at a refinery in Avon, about 35 miles northeast of San Francisco, on July 4 but was caught by security guards.
He was held for five days in jail on charges of entering the country without inspection. Leadbetter ordered him released on his own recognizance.
Mtoto has told officials he was born in South Africa but moved to the Ivory Coast with his mother 10 years ago. After she died, he attended school and lived with neighbors until April, when he hid aboard a freighter bound for France.
After Mtoto was discovered five days later, the ship’s captain told him he would be returned to either the Ivory Coast or South Africa. Mtoto grabbed a life preserver and leaped into the chilly sea, floating for hours in the Strait of Gibraltar before the tanker picked him up.
Mtoto said he did not expect the support he has received. ″I’d like to be a good citizen,″ he said. ″I’ve met many good people here, people who are not racist.″
Mtoto is attending John Adams Community College and says he wants to become a lawyer.
Duke Austin, a spokesman for the Immigration and Naturalization Service in Washington, said that since 1979 more than 80,000 people had come to the United States from the African continent. Austin said that for 1986, 11 South Africans were granted political asylum in this country, 20 applications were denied and 25 were pending.