In August 2008, Uwe and Hannelore Romeike fled from Germany to the United States after their family was persecuted for homeschooling. Fleeing exorbitant fines, the threat of forcible removal of their children, and possible imprisonment, the Romeikes were initially granted political asylum in the U.S.
The United States Government Agency for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) disagreed and appealed to the Board of Immigration Appeals, which reversed, ordering the Romeikes to be deported. Home School Legal Defense Association is appealing their case to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. Oral arguments are scheduled for April 23, 2013. HSLDA has also initiated a petition asking the Obama administration to grant the Romeikes permanent legal status.
Fleeing for Freedom
On a trip to Germany in 2007, HSLDA Director for International Affairs Mike Donnelly learned that the Romeikes were being fined thousands of dollars and that the authorities were preparing to bring an action to put a lien on their home for payment of the fines. “I knew that this was only a starting point,” Donnelly said, “and that it was very likely that more severe action would eventually be taken, since homeschooling is illegal in Germany. Uwe told me that he and Hanne thought that they might have to leave their country.”
Donnelly has been working on the Romeikes’ case from the beginning and called the family’s actions heroic. “This is a family who gave up almost everything for a shot at freedom to homeschool,” he said. “Uwe is a piano teacher by trade and sold his grand piano to fund his family’s escape.”
The Romeike family arrived the U.S. in August 2008 with only what they could carry. Local homeschoolers gave them a warm welcome and helped them find a place to live.
A Safe Haven
During the nearly two years it took for the Romeikes’ asylum application to come before a judge, the Romeikes continued to homeschool and began building a life for themselves in Tennessee.
Uwe recalls their January 20, 2010, hearing: “It was difficult to hear the government’s attorney go against us. As he was making his closing argument, I kept feeling lower and lower because he was explaining all the reasons why the judge shouldn’t grant us asylum.”
The family was elated when U.S. Immigration Judge Lawrence O. Burman granted them asylum on January 26, 2010. In his groundbreaking decision, the judge found that homeschoolers are a persecuted particular social group in Germany and that the German government’s actions frustrated the Romeikes’ religious convictions for homeschooling.
“The decision was an extraordinary recognition of the fundamental importance of the right of parents to raise their children according to the dictates of individual conscience,” said HSLDA Director of Litigation Jim Mason, who helped write HSLDA’s appeal. “Judge Burman noted that the rights being denied the Romeikes were ‘basic human rights that no country has a right to violate.’ ”
U.S. Immigration Reverses Asylum
However, on May 4, 2012, the United States Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) overturned Judge Burman’s decision.
The BIA agreed with the government’s argument that U.S. law recognizes the “broad power of the state to prohibit or regulate homeschooling.” ICE took the position that Germany’s harsh treatment of homeschoolers is merely prosecution, not persecution. HSLDA is appealing to United States Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.
ICE’s Dangerous Views of our Freedom
HSLDA chairman and constitutional attorney Michael Farris noted three troubling arguments in the government’s response to HSLDA’s appeal.
“First, the United States argued that a nation violates no one’s rights by banning homeschooling,” Farris said.
“Second, the government contended that the Romeikes’ case failed to show there was any discrimination based on religion because, among other reasons, the Romeikes did not prove that all homeschoolers are religious or that all Christians believe they must homeschool.
“However,” said Farris, “religious freedom is an individual right. One need not be a part of any church or other religious group to be able to make a religious freedom claim.”
The third troubling point Farris identified is that one of the grounds for U.S. asylum is if persecution is aimed at a “particular social group.” The definition of a “particular social group” requires a showing of an “immutable” characteristic that cannot change or should not be required to be changed, he said.
Arguing that homeschoolers are too vague or amorphous to be a social group, the government also said that since there are many different reasons people homeschool, homeschooling is not immutable. The government asserted that parents can easily change their educational choice by sending their children to public or private school. Echoing arguments from the German constitutional court that has upheld Germany’s ban on home education, the U.S. argued that children are only in school 22-26 hours a week and parents can teach whatever they want outside public school hours.
“There are two main problems with this argument,” Farris explained.
“The first is that our government does not understand that families like the Romeikes have two goals when they choose homeschooling. They want to teach their children certain things, and they want to avoid having their children taught certain things. Sending their children to school would violate this second goal.”
“And finally,” said Farris, “no one contends that homeschooling is a characteristic that cannot be changed. We simply contend that in a free nation, this is a characteristic that should not be required to be changed.”
What Does this Mean for U.S. Homeschoolers?
Although U.S. education laws are controlled by the states and this case is being decided in the immigration context, Farris is concerned that the logic behind the government’s arguments could eventually be applied to all American homeschoolers.
“When the United States government says that homeschooling is a mutable choice, it is saying that a government can legitimately coerce you to change this choice,” Farris said. “In other words, you have no protected right to choose what type of education your children will receive. We should understand that in these arguments by the U.S. government, something important is being said about the liberties of American homeschoolers.”
The Romeikes are certain to face some form of government persecution if they are forced to return to Germany. Judge Burman wrote that the United States could be a place of refuge for the Romeikes. Regrettably, the Obama administration doesn't agree.
If you join with HSLDA in defending this family, you join us to defend all homeschooling families. Please keep HSLDA’s legal team in your thoughts and prayers as they defend the Romeikes.