Romeike Family Granted Permanent Stay in the U.S.

By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

While the U.S. Supreme Court declined yesterday to review the Romeike family’s asylum case, the family was today granted “indefinite deferred status,” allowing them to stay permanently in the U.S. 

With the encouragement of Michael Farris and HSLDA, Uwe and Hannelore Romeike and their six children moved from Germany to the state of Tennessee in the U.S. six years ago. The family filed an asylum claim and argued they faced persecution because their conviction to homeschool conflicted with Germany’s educational policies.

On January 26, 2010, a U.S. immigration judge granted the Romeike family asylum on account of “persecution for homeschooling.” The granting of asylum (later overturned) was a significant legal precedent at the time. As HSLDA attorney Mike Donnelly pointed out, this was “the first case ever to recognize homeschooling as a reason for granting asylum.” This was exactly the intended result of the Romeike case, as HSLDA was using the family as part of a global strategy, the end result being “to be able to say that homeschooling is a human right.” Donnelly himself said, “The Romeikes’ asylum victory is the culmination of years of groundwork to protect homeschooling.”

The decision to grant the Romeike family asylum was overturned two years later on May 24, 2012. The Board of Immigration Appeals determined in Romeike v. Holder that Germany’s general restrictions against homeschooling (homeschooling is illegal except in a few cases) do not target a specific social group, thus they cannot be construed as “persecution” justifying asylum.

HSLDA and the Romeike family appealed this decision to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. On May 14, 2013, the 6th Circuit denied the appeal. The judge’s decision was that, “The U.S. grants safe haven to people who have a well-founded fear of persecution, but not necessarily to those under governments with laws that simply differ from those in the U.S.” This decision was then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

On March 3, 2014, the Supreme Court declined to review the Romeike family’s case. The justices did so without comment. HSLDA’s response to this decision on Facebook involved a swipe at undocumented workers, saying, “If 12 million people can live here illegally, then surely there is a way to find a place for this one family.” News outlets published stories on the decision with a litany of curious headlines, such as WorldNetDaily’s “Supreme Court sends homeschoolers packing” and Fox News’ “Team Obama wins fight to have Christian home-school family deported.”

Today, however, HSLDA announced on their Facebook page that a supervisor from the Department of Homeland Security informed them that “the Romeike family has been granted ‘indefinite deferred status.'” HSLDA says this means “the Romeikes can stay in the United States permanently (unless they are convicted of a crime, etc.).” It remains unknown at the moment what individual or individuals chose to grant the Romeikes this status.

“Indefinite deferred status” is also expressed as “amnesty.” The current administration has granted amnesty to the Romeike family.

Below is a copy of HSLDA’s Facebook status, which you can view online here:

BREAKING NEWS!!! The Romeikes can stay!!!

Today, a Supervisor with the Department of Homeland Security called a member of our legal team to inform us that the Romeike family has been granted “indefinite deferred status”. This means that the Romeikes can stay in the United States permanently (unless they are convicted of a crime, etc.)

This is an incredible victory that can only be credited to our Almighty God.

We also want to thank those of who spoke up on this issue–including that long ago White House petition. We believe that the public outcry made this possible while God delivered the victory.

This is an amazing turnaround in 24 hours. Praise the Lord.

Proverbs 21: 1 “The king’s heart is like a stream of water directed by the Lord, He guides it wherever He pleases.”
~~Michael Farris

Asylum For Homeschoolers, And Whether The Pilgrims Would Get Asylum Today

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Asylum For Homeschoolers, And Whether The Pilgrims Would Get Asylum Today, By Nicholas Bolzman

HA note: Nicholas Bolzman blogs at Looking for Overland, a joint blog project “authored by three friends who met at Patrick Henry College and then worked together at the Home School Legal Defense Association.” This essay was originally published on May 20, 2013 and is reprinted with his permission. Nicholas Bolzman received his JD from Michigan State University College of Law last spring and is a graduate of Patrick Henry College. Also by Nicholas on HA: “A Game of Online Telephone: Homeschooling, Asylum, and the Attorney General”.

Last [May] the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the Board of Immigration Appeals denial of asylum for the Romeike family. You can read the opinion here. HSLDA, who is handling the case, is promising to appeal.

I’ve blogged about this case previously, but this new opinion is worth a few additional observations.

First, for anyone tempted to blame this decision on a liberal bench or an Obama agenda, none of the judges were Obama appointees. Judge Sutton, who wrote the opinion, and Judge Rogers, who wrote the concurrence, were both appointed by George W. Bush. Judge Sutton, in particular, was initially too conservative for the Democratic controlled Senate and his appointment was blocked for two years. The third judge, Judge Gilman, is a Clinton appointee who was confirmed by the Senate on a 98-1 vote. In this case, all three judges agreed that the family did not qualify for asylum status.

And in a somewhat odd twist, based on my reading of dozens of asylum cases, the family would likely have had a greater chance of success with a more liberal bench.

The conservative strict constructionist model does not have as much flexibility for this sort of case. So this outcome cannot be attributed to any liberal animus or agenda. It was simply a matter of applying facts to law, and these three judges were not persuaded.

Second, the court is abundantly clear that it is not addressing the issue of homeschooling rights under United States law or the United States Constitution:

Had the Romeikes lived in America at the time, they would have had a lot of legal authority to work with in countering the prosecution. See Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205, 213–14 (1972); Pierce v. Soc’y of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510, 534–35 (1925); Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390, 400–01 (1923).

But the Romeikes lived in Germany when this dispute began. When the Romeikes became fed up with Germany’s ban on homeschooling and when their prosecution for failure to follow the law led to increasingly burdensome fines, they came to this country with the hope of obtaining asylum. Congress might have written the immigration laws to grant a safe haven to people living elsewhere in the world who face government strictures that the United States Constitution prohibits. But it did not.

* * *

The question is not whether Germany’s policy violates the American Constitution, whether it violates the parameters of an international treaty or whether Germany’s law is a good idea. It is whether the Romeikes have established the prerequisites of an asylum claim—a well-founded fear of persecution on account of a protected ground.

Here, the court is undeniably legally correct.

The case is not about whether the family is entitled to homeschool here but rather whether their treatment by Germany is such that they can obtain status as refugees here. That is a high standard, as not every inconvenience, or even illegal action, creates refugees. It is also a completely different question than what types of government action our Constitution protects us from. This case cannot be used as a precedent to undermine domestic homeschooling rights. If anything, it is further proof that the courts recognize those rights. The Romeike family does not face deportation because they are homeschooling, they face deportation because the court has determined that they are not eligible for the status they sought.

Third, as hinted at above, the court got the law right. The issue was whether the Romeike family feared persecution on account of their religious beliefs or social group membership by the German government if they returned. The court did not reach the question of whether homeschooling is a “particular social group,” but instead denied asylum because it determined that the family had not shown sufficient bad motives on the part of the German government. Again, refugee status is a high standard that all applicants must prove. For asylum to be granted, the treatment must be really bad — something nonsensical, silly, or even inconvenient or illegal is not sufficient.

That’s the law as Congress wrote it, and no matter how much we may want it otherwise, the court can not and should not change it.

Because of this, the whole complaint that the Obama administration doesn’t recognize individual rights or refuses to recognize persecution that applies to an entire country misses the mark. While this complaint is valid, the problem stems not from the Obama administration, or with the reviewing judges and is certainly not unique to this case. Instead, it is a problem inherent in our asylum law as adopted by Congress in 1980. And homeschoolers are just the most recent group to discover this difficulty.

Over the last few decades, Iranian women, Chinese parents fleeing the one-child policy, and even Chinese pastors have run into the exact same problem.

The fact that a government does not single people out for persecution can be a disqualifying fact for those fleeing persecution. Unless we want judges to rewrite the laws, this is the standard. And it’s true that the Pilgrims would probably not get asylum under today’s immigration laws. But that is a problem with the laws, not the judges, the Attorney General, or the President.

Fourth and finally, this case reveals the restrictive nature of our immigration system. For many around the world, and apparently for this family, a desire to come to the United States legally is not enough to obtain legal status. Unless the applicant has a family member here or an employer willing to sponsor them, there is virtually no line to enter for admission. The Romeike family has to resort to asylum because they apparently cannot just apply for entry (they entered on an 90 day temporary visa in 2008 and have been permitted to stay pending the outcome of their case). So, to all the conservative commentators out there, yes, this family did do everything right. But the reality of our immigration system is that even doing everything right still often leads to deportation.

And that is a problem with the law, not with the administration.

A Game of Online Telephone: Homeschooling, Asylum, and the Attorney General

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A Game of Online Telephone: Homeschooling, Asylum, and the Attorney General, By Nicholas Bolzman

HA note: Nicholas Bolzman blogs at Looking for Overland, a joint blog project “authored by three friends who met at Patrick Henry College and then worked together at the Home School Legal Defense Association.” This essay was originally published on February 26, 2013 and is reprinted with his permission. Nicholas Bolzman received his JD from Michigan State University College of Law last spring and is a graduate of Patrick Henry College.

Dear homeschooling community:

Despite what you may have heard, the arguments presented by the Department Justice in the case involving German homeschoolers do not pose a direct threat to your homeschooling freedoms.

Over the last few weeks I’ve watch as, in a game of online telephone, this story has evolved from HSLDA’s Mike Farris’ musings, to the question of whether domestic homeschooling rises or falls with this case to, finally, “Holder vs. home schooling.”

Unfortunately, in the hysteria, the actual issue at stake seems to have been lost.

As a brief background on the case, in January of 2010, an Immigration Judge granted asylum to the family. The Department of Homeland Security appealed that decision to the Board of Immigration Appeals, which reversed the Immigration Judge in May of 2012. The family has now appealed to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals and is awaiting a decision. Once that decision is made, the losing side can request the Supreme Court for review.

Three primary issues need to be remembered as we think about this case.

First, the dispute is not really about constitutional rights.

Yes, parental rights are considered a fundamental constitutional right here in the United States, but that is largely beside the point. Since the German state is not bound by our Constitution, whether it has “violated” it or whether its actions would be permitted if conducted by a US political entity is immaterial. Germany, as a sovereign political entity, has the authority to make the laws governing German citizens.

Asylum, in a general sense, is inherently a check on sovereignty. And it must be couched in such terms. More than a mere preference, it is a statement that the oppressing state acted in an illegitimate manner toward its citizens. This transfers the debate about homeschooling from one of US Constitutional rights (which are largely irrelevant to asylum claims) to one of international human rights.

As I’ve written before, there is support for parental choice in education being a peremptory human right. That, and not domestic constitutional rights language, is where the debate lies. This case does have the potential to make a large impact on the status of parental rights in the international sphere, and for that reason I’m hopeful that the family wins. But even if the family loses, Eric Holder won’t be sending out SWAT teams to round up US homeschooling families.

Second, the litigation is not concentrated on whether the homeschooling family is wanted, is desirable, or would otherwise make a positive contribution to the nation.

It is not about whether the family should or can homeschool here. The government is not attempting to deport them because they homeschool. Instead, the question is whether Germany’s denial of the family’s right to homeschool makes them a “refugee.” If it does not, they do not have legal immigration status and, like all others without status, they would be required to leave or find some other way to obtain status.

To qualify as a refugee the family must show that they are someone “who is persecuted or who has a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.” INA 101(a)(42)(B); 8 USC § 1101(a)(42)(B).

This definition is easily broken into two parts, the treatment part (persecution) and the prosecutor’s motivation (“on account of…”). Even if “persecution”–which Congress never bothered to define–is shown, only certain types of persecution make one eligible for asylum. The persecuting government must be doing the persecution “on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.”

The litigation before the Sixth Circuit includes parts of both elements.

First, the government is making the case that Germany’s treatment of the family does not amount to persecution. Under the legal standard, not every form of mistreatment constitutes persecution. It must reach a certain level of seriousness–often including physical beatings or threats of death. However, it can also include economic coercion. For the German family, even the initial Immigration Judge who granted asylum did not find that they had suffered past persecution. However, he did find that they had a well-founded fear of future persecution based on Germany’s treatment of homeschoolers in general.

But persecution aside, the family also has to show that they were targeted on “on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.” Race, nationality, and political opinion are not even being argued, so the only two arguments the family is using are religion and membership in a particular social group. Religion is tricky, since while the law does interfere with their religions beliefs, it is a general law that does not single them out or in any other way target them. Social group is the other argument, but that term is so loosely defined and unclear that there is little hope to avoid litigation when asserting it.

That German homeschoolers are a particular social group is certainly a strong argument, but it is not one that asylum law has previously recognized, so it should not be surprising that DOJ would resist.

And asylum claims against general laws are often unsuccessful, the most notorious example being the BIA’s 1989 holding that those fleeing China’s one-child policy were not eligible for asylum (in 1996 the asylum definition was specifically amended to fix this). Conscientious objectors to a general draft law have also been denied. The rationale here is that states have authority to pass laws that apply to everyone, and absent something extreme, enforcing that law is not persecution on account of one of the protected grounds.

So, although one can characterize the government’s motivations in continuing the litigation as opposition to homeschooling, it is just as easy to interpret it as a strict adherence to our immigration laws. And isn’t that something conservatives want?

Third, it is dangerous to impose personal motivations on the attorneys or departments based on their positions.

If this approach were viable, then the following conclusions must also be drawn:

  • That the Bush administration, and specifically Attorney General Ashcroft, supported child soldiers in Uganda (asylum granted by Third Circuit, but DOJ litigated against, 2003).
  • That the Bush Administration somehow wanted the death of Edgar Chocoy, the Guatemalan teen who escaped a gang with a price on his head, made it to the United States, and claimed asylum. His claim was denied and he was returned to Guatemala. He was shot to death one week later.

And that is only a small sample of the asylum cases either denied or objected to by the US government over the past thirty years. DHS/DOJ routinely denies or opposes asylum claims from those who believe they are going back to situations much worse than the German family. That is their job.

Please don’t get me wrong. Germany is violating peremptory human rights in its denial of homeschooling freedoms, and the family should be granted asylum. But the mere fact that the attorneys at DOJ oppose what they see as an expansion of asylum law–as they routinely oppose situations much worse than this–is no grounds to vilify them.

If anything, the litigation calls into question whether our asylum law is too strict.

Why HSLDA is Wrong about Romeike v. Holder

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Why HSLDA is Wrong about Romeike v. Holder, By Nikki

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was a guest post by Nikki and originally published on Patheos on April 18, 2013.

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Note from Libby Anne: If you follow the conservative media or have conservative facebook friends, you may know that there is a large brouhaha going on at the moment over the threatened deportation of a German homeschooling family that was originally granted asylum in the United States in 2010. Curious about the facts of the case, which conservatives are using as evidence of the evils of the Obama administration, the persecution of homeschoolers, and the fragility of American religious freedom, I asked a law student friend to explain the case for me—and for my readers. This information is critical for anyone interested in the Romeike case.

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Romeike_March18_2013

A Guest Post by Nikki

Before I get into the Romeike case, let me start with a quick legal outline. Under current U.S. law, “persons who have been persecuted or fear they will be persecuted on account of race, religion, nationality, and/or membership in a particular social group or political opinion” are eligible for asylum in the U.S. Upon arriving in the U.S., asylum-seekers file a petition for asylum. The petition is first seen in the Immigration Court, where an immigration judge rules upon it. Then, either the petitioner or the government may appeal the decision made by the immigration judge to the Board of Immigration Appeals. After the Board of Immigration Appeals issues its decision, a few specific types of cases, asylum among them, may be appealed to the federal circuit overseeing the jurisdiction where the petitioner lives (in the Romeike case, it’s the 6th circuit).

Now on to the Romeike case. German parents Uwe and Hannelore Romeike decided to homeschool their children because of concerns that the German public school system taught bad values and approved of witchcraft. Faced with fines, imprisonment, and the loss of custody of their children in the only European country where homeschooling is banned outright, the family fled to the United States in 2008. On January 26, 2010, an immigration judge granted the Romeikes asylum. The immigration judge held that the Romeike’s were “members of a particular social group” and concluded that they would face persecution for their religious beliefs should they be returned to Germany.

On May 4, 2012, the Board of Immigration Appeals overruled the immigration judge and denied the Romeikes asylum. The Board of Immigration Appeals needed to answer these questions: (1) Have the Romeikes suffered persecution? (2) If they did suffer persecution, was it because of their religion? (3) Alternatively, if they did suffer persecution, was it because of their membership in a particular social group? The Board of Immigration Appeals answered no to all these questions. First, it wasn’t persecution because the anti-homeschooling law was one of general application (not meant to target a specific group, but rather something that applied evenly across the board). Next, because there were secular reasons for the compulsory attendance law, even if it had been deemed persecution it wouldn’t have been persecution suffered because of their religion. Finally, the Board of Immigration Appeals found that German homeschoolers are not a particular social group within the meaning of the act. To be a social group, there must be “social visibility” and “particularity.”

Homeschoolers are simply too “amorphous” to constitute a social group eligible for protection under the asylum law.

The Board of Immigration Appeals decision has now been appealed to the 6th Circuit. At issue again will be whether the Romeikes are being persecuted due to their religious belief or if they are being persecuted because they are a member of a particular social group.

The Religious Freedom Argument:

Note that asylum law does not depend on American constitutional rights.

Just because you have a right under the American constitution, that does not mean you will receive asylum because your home country does not recognize that right.

A prime example is the right to free speech. European countries tend to have a much narrower range of protections for speech, strongly limiting hate speech. Germany, for instance, forbids anyone from advocating for the Nazi party. Such a law would not survive a constitutional challenge in the United States. However, you cannot receive asylum in the United States if you are a Nazi sympathizer in Germany. This is because such a law would not be seen as “persecution” within the meaning of the asylum statute. Just as the Board of Immigration Appeals found that the Romeikes were not being persecuted because the compulsory attendance law was a law of general applicability to all Germans, no matter their religion or political beliefs, even so a generic “no hate speech” law under which pro-Nazi advocacy was banned would similarly not provide grounds for asylum.

How do you determine whether a government’s actions constitute persecution? You (gasp!) look at international law. For all the time and energy it spends lambasting international bodies and rights treaties, it is surprising that HSLDA is relying on international law for its arguments.

When HSLDA goes bonkers over the Department of Justice’s assertion that homeschooling is not a fundamental human right, they are really complaining that the Department of Justice doesn’t think homeschooling is protected by international law. The Department of Justice’s assertion has nothing whatsoever to do with an analysis of rights protected under American law.

But really, HSLDA and their followers have no one to blame but themselves for the supposed lack of development in international law—they have been fighting any American involvement in the development of international law for decades.

HSLDA contends that Germany’s compulsory attendance law is per se a religious liberty violation because its goal is the integration of minorities and avoidance of parallel societies. HSLDA is famously involved in all kinds of hyper-conservative political activities, and it’s amusing that the same populace known for their xenophobia and dislike of multiculturalism should now be upset with Germany for trying to encourage homogeneity within the populace. Germany’s policy is also little different than what occurred in the United States during the late 19th century, when public education was seen as a means to “Americanize” the millions of children immigrating every year.

Be that as it may, the 6th Circuit should not see the compulsory attendance law as an attack on religious liberty. Germany is not out to smother any particular religious group or even all religious groups—its goal is a shared experience. In light of the problems Germany has had with the large number of Turkish immigrants not assimilating, it’s not difficult to see that the Romeike’s have just found themselves at odds with a law of general application. After all, under our own 1st amendment jurisprudence, laws of general applicability are not seen as violations of religious liberty.

Note also the kind of precedent HSLDA’s argument would set. If homeschooling were sufficient to grant you asylum in the U.S., what other laws of general applicability in other countries could get you asylum here? Remember my Nazi advocacy example? That would be the tip of the iceberg. What about countries where private tun ownership is barred? or countries where wearing the burka in public is banned? This would mean a complete transformation in the way the Department of Justice handles asylum cases.

The Social Group Argument:

HSLDA also argues, alternatively, that German homeschoolers are a particular social group and that hence the Romeikes are being persecuted because of their inclusion in that group. This also seems to be a losing argument, because social groups must share “immutable characteristics.” “Immutable characteristics” is a term typically found in Equal Protection law and commonly refers to things like race or gender. HSLDA and its ilk has fought against expanding Equal Protection to include other characteristics such as sexual orientation, but now—since it suits them—they would like this phrase to be broadened to include “homeschooling,” because homeschooling is “fundamental to [asylum-seekers’] individual identities or consciences.”

The Department of Justice rightly contends that homeschooling is not an immutable characteristic because you can simply stop homeschooling.

HSLDA has responded in its brief that courts have never required people to simply stop being religious. Well . . . yes, but HSLDA is combining two separate grounds for asylum. You can be granted asylum because you were persecuted due to your religious beliefs OR you can be granted asylum because you were persecuted due to your membership in a particular social group, i.e. because of your immutable characteristics. Obviously, “particular social group” was meant to capture things like tribal affiliation, not actions like homeschooling. Once again, what HSLDA wants is a transformation of Department of Justice procedures regarding asylum cases.

Concluding Thoughts:

Finally, a word about the meme going around (perpetuated by HSLDA), asking why Obama wants to give 11 million undocumented immigrants “amnesty” while seeking to deport the Romeike family.

Obama-Asylum

First, Obama himself is not the one making any decisions about the Romeike family. (And remember that the family was first granted asylum when Obama was in office, not Bush.) That is an agency decision made by people who are career attorneys within Department of Justice. Administrations come and go, but these career attorneys stay. Second, under the existing law, the Romeikes should be deported.

The administration is simply enforcing the law as to the Romeikes based on what the law currently says, just as the administration has done with the record number of immigrants it has deported over the past several years, not creating new laws or changing existing ones.

HSLDA would whine and complain if Obama used his prosecutorial discretion to not enforce the law against the illegal immigrants currently being deported. But now, for the Romeikes, HSLDA is asking for an exception to the rules. Why? Because HSLDA likes these illegal immigrants. You will not see HSLDA and its hyper-conservative supporters wanting the Obama administration to show this kind of compassion to the millions of individuals who came to the United States due to the poverty and violence in their home countries. Let those people find a life somewhere else, the fundamentalists working at HSLDA would say.

Well, the Romeikes can find a life somewhere else too—almost anywhere else in Europe but Germany.

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Concluding thoughts from Libby Anne:

Now that you’ve read Nikki’s coverage of the legal aspects of the Romeike case, how the case fits into asylum and immigration law, and why the case has been decided against the Romeikes at the present, I want to finish with a few closing thoughts.

First, if we could fix the immigration system so that the Romeikes could simply and easily move to the U.S. legally without having to apply for asylum, this problem would go away. And which side is generally against immigration reform?

Second, because of the ease with which people can move from one country to another within the European Union, the Romeikes could have simply moved to France or Switzerland or Austria, where homeschooling is legal. Instead, HSLDA attorney Mike Donnelly encouraged the Romeikes to move to the U.S. and apply for asylum, possibly with the intent of starting a court battle and having homeschooling declared a human right. in other wise, the Romeikes are being used as a political playing piece by HSLDA, the homeschool lobby, and conservative political hacks.

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Third, the Romeikes are not at risk of being put on a plane to Germany and arrested on arrival. Their children are not in danger of being taken from them. The image above is deliberately communicating a falsehood. If their request for asylum is rejected, the Romeikes can go to any country which will accept them as immigrants—or any country in the EU—and will be given a time period in which to make these arrangements

Fourth, it is my position that whether or not homeschooling should be legal in Germany ought to be up to Germany. If the German people want to make homeschooling legal, great! But if they want to mandate that children must attend a formal school (public or private), I don’t have a problem with that. It’s their country, their constitution, their laws.

Fifth, I remember HSLDA talking about threats to German homeschoolers way back when I was a little girl, and I am firmly convinced that HSLDA is using the Romeike case, as it has used German cases before, to keep U.S. homeschoolers in a state of fear and keep them coming back to HSLDA to buy their legal insurance. Whether or not homeschooling is legal in Germany has absolutely no effect on whether it is legal in the U.S.

Sixth and finally, see this interesting fact checking article for more information for refuting bad arguments and information out there about the Romeike case, and also take a look at “Why German Homeschoolers Get Asylum and Torture Survivors Don’t.