- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 28, 2010

A U.S. immigration judge’s decision to grant political asylum to a German family with “a well-founded fear of persecution” for home-schooling their children should send a powerful message to the German government to change its stance on home schooling, the family’s attorney said Wednesday.

“Home-schoolers are not a threat to German society,” said Michael Donnelly, one of the Home School Legal Defense Association’s team of lawyers representing Uwe Romeike; his wife, Hannelore; and their five children.

Home schooling in Germany is illegal in most cases, and violators can be fined, jailed and even lose custody of their children. Mr. Donnelly said the German government has decided home-schoolers are “trying to create a parallel society” that must be “stamped out.”

The Romeikes home-schooled their children in Germany and received fines totaling $10,000. On one occasion, Mr. Donnelly said, police hauled their children off to school. In 2006, the Romeikes emigrated to Tennessee and continued home schooling their children. Mr. Donnelly said the family applied for political asylum within three months of arriving in the U.S.

Immigration Judge Lawrence O. Burman in Tennessee granted asylum to the Romeikes during a conference-call hearing Tuesday, as is typical in immigration cases. A written ruling is expected to follow, but was not available Wednesday evening.

According to Mr. Donnelly, Judge Burman ruled for the German family because “home-schoolers are a particular social group that the German government is trying to suppress.”

“This family has a well-founded fear of persecution,” Judge Burman said, according to the family’s attorney. “Therefore, they are eligible for asylum … and the court will grant asylum.”

Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which represents the federal government in immigration cases, could appeal the ruling. ICE spokesman Temple Black would say only that the agency had 30 days to decide whether to appeal.

Michael Wildes, a prominent New York immigration lawyer, said it’s “extraordinary” to see asylum being granted to people coming from a nation with which the U.S. has strong diplomatic ties and a military alliance.

But Mr. Wildes said the judge made the right decision.

“This intolerance does not reflect well on Germany, and frankly, as a Holocaust survivor’s grandson, gives me great pause that they don’t get down the slope they are embarking on,” Mr. Wildes said. “Appreciation of diversity, ethnicity and tolerance needs to be part of Germany’s DNA, and it’s disturbing if this is the path that nation is once again headed on.”

Phone calls to the German Embassy in Washington were not answered, and an e-mail message sent to its press office was not returned.

The Romeikes have said their evangelical Christian beliefs led them to home-school their children in Germany.

“During the last 10-20 years the curriculum in public schools has been more and more against Christian values,” Mr. Romeike told the Associated Press after the ruling was delivered Tuesday.

The Romeikes declined to be interviewed by The Washington Times because they have an exclusive agreement with a German media outlet — another possible indication that the couple’s biggest concern and audience now is in Germany and its home-schooling laws. That agreement was reached after the interview with the AP.

Mr. Donnelly said the Romeikes are “delighted” to be able to stay in the U.S.

“These are normal people,” he said. “They are your typical home-schooling family.”

In a statement released by the Home School Legal Defense Association, Mr. Romeike said his family was “grateful to the judge for his ruling.”

“We know many people, especially other German home-schoolers, have been praying for us. Their prayers and ours have been answered,” Mr. Romeike said. “We greatly appreciate the freedom to home-school we now have in America and will be building our new life here.”

• Ben Conery can be reached at bconery@washingtontimes.com.

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