March 2, 2015

H.R. 1153 Offers Asylum for Homeschoolers

J. Michael Smith
HSLDA President

The Romeike Family may have a new chance to apply for asylum.
A bill in Congress would allow the Romeikes—and other persecuted homeschool families—to apply for asylum in the United States. Read more about the Romeike family.

Take Action

Please call your U.S. representative and ask him or her to support the homeschool asylum language in H.R. 1153. You can reach your representative by calling the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121, or by using HSLDA’s Legislative Toolbox.

Stay informed

Amid the immigration debate in Washington, D.C., legislation is pending that will make it possible for families who are treated harshly over homeschooling to find refuge in the United States. The legislation was developed by HSLDA along with supportive members of Congress in the wake of the Romeike family’s asylum case. The bill has been introduced as H.R. 1153, the Asylum Reform and Border Protection Act of 2015, and is scheduled for a vote in the House Judiciary Committee this week.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (UT), joined by original cosponsor Daniel Webster (FL) and Rep. Robert Goodlatte (VA), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, have included specific language that would allow up to 500 grants of asylum to families fleeing homeschool persecution. The Romeike family would be able to reopen their case under the proposed law. The bill, which includes other changes to the Immigration and Nationality Act, including ordering the U.S. Attorney General to hire at least 50 more immigration judges, would make it easier for families who are treated harshly because of homeschooling to be granted asylum.

The bill explicitly refers to homeschooling as a particular social group and specifies that a person is “deemed” to be eligible for asylum if he or she is persecuted for homeschooling or if the person resists anti-homeschooling laws in his country of origin. The House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to discuss the bill on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week.

“America is a country that protects freedom,” said Webster. “The right of parents to educate their children is a fundamental human right that is internationally acknowledged. This legislation strengthens these opportunities by providing protection for families facing persecution at the hands of their own government and protects their right to practice the basic liberties to educate and nurture their own children.”

Chairman Goodlatte summarized the bill: “The Asylum Reform and Border Protection Act cracks down on fraudulent and baseless asylum claims in order to preserve the integrity of our immigration system. It also makes common sense changes to the law to protect victims of persecution around the globe, like allowing those fleeing their home countries based on their being persecuted for choosing to homeschool their children to apply for asylum. Altogether, this bill strengthens our asylum system so that those truly persecuted can come to the U.S. and seek refuge from oppression.’

Place of Refuge

Michael Farris, HSLDA’s chairman, who argued before the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of the Romeike family, was pleased with the congressional action.

“No one should be forced to flee their homeland in order to homeschool,” Farris said. “But that is what the Romeikes and scores of other families have had to do in order to escape crushing fines, criminal penalties and even the seizure of their children in countries like Germany and Sweden. Homeschooling is no threat to free societies, and I applaud the Congress for taking action so that families like the Romeikes and others who experience harsh treatment may find refuge and legal status in the land of the free.”

The Romeike family came from Germany to the United States in 2008 seeking asylum after being fined for homeschooling their children. With HSLDA’s help, the Romeikes won asylum in 2010.

J. Michael Smith is president of HSLDA. He has been an advocate for homeschooling for more than 30 years. Read more >>

U.S. immigration judge Lawrence Burman granted the family asylum, saying that the German policy against homeschooling was “repugnant to everything we believe as Americans.” Burman found that the family had a legitimate fear of persecution because of homeschooling and said that the United States should “be a refuge” for the family.

Judge Burman’s favorable decision was overturned in the Sixth Circuit after the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement objected. Soon, the family was appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a deportation order. But although the Supreme Court declined to hear the case, the Department of Homeland Security granted the family indefinite deferred action status at the last minute, allowing them to remain in the United States.

Building a Home

The Romeike family now resides in eastern Tennessee. Uwe Romeike, a trained concert pianist, teaches private piano lessons, plays for their church and is an accompanist at a local university. The family has had two more children since coming to the United States. They are grateful to be able to remain, but yearn to be able to seek citizenship.

“We did not want to have to leave our home in Germany in order to homeschool,” Uwe explains. “But when we were harshly treated, America opened its doors to us. America has become our new home. We have become part of our community and have been so welcomed by our brothers and sisters in Tennessee. We want to be citizens of this great country, and we are so grateful to the congressmen for writing this bill.”

“HSLDA’s support has been so helpful, and I am so glad that they continue to work to help homeschoolers abroad who are in trouble,” added his wife, Hanne Romeike. “We love America and our freedom to homeschool. Our seven children love this country, and we are so grateful to God for this incredible blessing.”

HSLDA has reported on numerous cases in Germany and Sweden where families have been denied the right to homeschool, including the Wunderlich family of Germany and the Petersens in Sweden. HSLDA is looking into taking these and other cases to the European Court of Human Rights, as well as other international tribunals, to highlight the need for nations to respect this important right.

Powerful Statement

Michael Donnelly, HSLDA director of global outreach, called the bill “groundbreaking.”

“A country that bans homeschooling is violating the basic human rights of their citizens. It makes me proud that our Congress is willing to make a statement like this—that this right should be recognized and protected,” he said. “I think this bill is going to kickstart serious discussion among Germans and policy makers in other countries, too. What are they going to say when hundreds of families start seeking asylum in the United States fleeing this kind of harsh treatment?”

“Although I see some evidence of slow change in Germany, too many homeschooling families are still treated very harshly, and many still leave the country,” Donnelly continued. “No one should have their children seized or have to leave their home in order to homeschool,” he continued. “Other countries need to sit up and take notice of this too. Sweden, Spain, and Brazil are among some of the places where laws have not been passed to recognize homeschooling or where homeschoolers are treated harshly.”

HSLDA Director of Federal Relations Will Estrada expressed the gratitude everyone at HSLDA and in much of the homeschool community feels at the introduction of this bill.

“I am so thankful to the many supportive members of Congress who have helped develop this legislation including Rep. Daniel Webster (FL) who has been the driving force along with Randy Hultgren (IL), Marlin Stutzman (IN) and Tim Walberg (MI),” he said. “And without the support of Representative Chaffetz and Chairman Goodlatte, this bill would never have seen a vote.”

“The entire homeschool community has had a hand in this also by their tremendous outpouring of support for the Romeike family and for other families who are denied the fundamental freedom to homeschool their children,” Estrada continued. “It’s an incredible privilege for all of us at HSLDA to serve such great families in support of such a worthy cause.”

The bill is scheduled to be heard on Wednesday, March 4 in the Judiciary Committee Room (Room 2141) at the Rayburn House Office Building starting at 10 a.m. HSLDA plans to hold a press conference after the bill passes committee, sometime Wednesday afternoon. Mr. Romeike is planning to attend the mark up and press conference. Local homeschoolers are encouraged to attend the committee mark up. Although no public testimony will be taken, a strong showing will demonstrate public support and interest in the bill.

Please call your U.S. representative and ask him or her to support the homeschool asylum language in H.R. 1153. You can reach your representative by calling the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121, or by using HSLDA’s Legislative Toolbox.

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