May 15, 2013

US federal court: Homeschoolers aren't persecuted in Germany

Homeschoolers are not a "particular social group" facing persecution in Germany, a federal appeals court has ruled, and homeschooling in a country where it's illegal is not grounds for asylum in the United States.

The ruling is a legal defeat for Uwe and Hannelore Romeike, a German homeschooling family, and the homeschooling activists who sought to use the case of Romeike v. Holder to get homeschoolers classified as a special, protected class.

The Romeikes have argued that they were being persecuted by the German government because they were homeschoolers; the Obama administration's Justice Department made the case that running afoul of the law does not amount to persecution, per se. In a ruling released yesterday, three federal judges unanimously agreed with the Obama administration.

Writing for the court, Judge Jeffrey S. Sutton wrote:
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. [....]  
The Romeikes have not met this burden. The German law does not on its face single out any protected group, and the Romeikes have not provided sufficient evidence to show that the law’s application turns on prohibited classifications or animus based on any prohibited ground.
According to US law, five groups of people are eligible for asylum if they are being targeted by their home governments because they belong to one of those categories: race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or belonging to a "particular social" group. The last is not defined by the law, and has been only vaguely defined by the courts. The Romeike's lawyers were attempting to argue that homeschoolers should be considered such a "particular social group," negatively targeted in Germany.

The court rejected that argument, finding that the German law was not directed at homeschoolers, to suppress or oppress them, but is a law of general applicability.

According to Sutton (a George W. Bush appointee), the Romeikes needed to prove one of number of things. Either they had to prove that Germany's compulsory education law was designed specifically, "on its face," to persecute the particular social group, homeschoolers, or they had to prove that the law is selectively enforced to punish a particular social group (i.e., homeschoolers), or they had to prove that the law is, in practice, only applicable to that group.

Even assuming that homeschoolers are to be taken as a particular social group, and so in principle eligible for asylum, the Romeikes did not present evidence that "the compulsory school attendance law is selectively applied to homeschoolers" or that "homeschoolers are more severely punished than others whose children do not comply with the compulsory school attendance law."

In this ruling, the court affirmed that parents do have the Constitution-protected right to "to direct the upbringing and education of children under their control," an issue that had raised concerns among US homeschoolers. The court found, though, that that is not legal grounds for asylum:
The United States has not opened its doors to every victim of unfair treatment, even treatment that our laws do not allow. That the United States Constitution protects the rights of “parents and guardians to direct the upbringing and education of children under their control" does not mean that a contrary law in another country establishes persecution on religious or any other protected ground [legal citations removed].
The court cited Samuel Alito, now a conservative Supreme Court Justice, to support this argument. In the 1993 case of Fatin v. INS, where a woman wanted asylum from Iran on the grounds she was upperclass, educated, a feminist and a not a Muslim, Alito wrote,
the concept of persecution does not encompass all treatment that our society regards as unfair, unjust, or even unlawful or unconstitutional. If persecution were defined that expansively, a significant percentage of the world’s population would qualify for asylum in this country -- and it seems most unlikely that Congress intended such a result
Alito could get the chance to revisit that argument, as the Romeikes' lawyers hope to take this case to the Supreme Court. Michael Farris, chairman of the Home School Legal Defense Fund that recruited the Romeikes from Germany and is representing, said the group will file an appeal.

Whether or not the court is interested in hearing this case is another question.

For now, Germans who want to move to the US to homeschool their children will have to apply for immigrant visas, rather than apply for asylum.