WASHINGTON (BP) -- Members of Congress have urged Attorney General Eric Holder to grant asylum to a German homeschooling family that is in danger of being deported.
Rep. Marlin Stutzman of Indiana and 26 other Republicans in the House of Representatives made their request in a May 24 letter to Holder, telling the country's top law enforcement official America should "welcome families who suffer persecution for exercising their right to educate their children."
The House members wrote Holder four days before the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) filed an appeal seeking a rehearing before a federal appeals court.
HSLDA Chairman Michael Farris submitted the request May 28 to the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, asking for the entire 15-member panel to reconsider a ruling by three judges on the court that went against the Romeike family.
Uwe and Hannelore Romeike, who are devout Christians, fled Germany with their five children in 2008. The Romeikes, who since have added a sixth child and are expecting a seventh in June, faced increasing fines and the risk of losing custody of their children unless those children attended school. Homeschooling is illegal in the European country.
The 6th Circuit panel unanimously upheld May 14 a decision by the Board of Immigration Appeals, which had overruled an immigration judge's grant of asylum to the Romeikes. After the judge's favorable ruling for the Romeikes in 2010, the Obama administration appealed his opinion to the immigration appeals board.
The House members affirmed the immigration judge's ruling in their letter to Holder, saying Lawrence Burman found the Romeikes' case met the legal standard for asylum, which is a "well-founded fear of future persecution on account of membership in a particular social group." In this family's case, the social group was "homeschoolers in Germany," the representatives said.
The Romeikes "fled to our country, seeking relief from high fines, removal of their children by armed police officers, and threats of prison and termination of their parental rights. If forced to return to Germany, they will certainly face renewed persecution," the House members said. "As Americans, we have an obligation to stand with those who seek freedom."
Stutzman, who decided with his wife to homeschool their sons for a while, said in a written statement, "Most Americans don't subscribe to the European notion that children belong to the community or the state -- they belong to their parents. For centuries, this country has always welcomed families who fled their countries in pursuit of freedom."
In its May 14 ruling, the 6th Circuit's three-judge panel said the Romeikes did not sufficiently make the case they had a "well-founded fear of persecution" based on being homeschoolers.
There is a distinction between "the persecution of a discrete group and those who violate a generally applicable law," the judges said in their opinion. "As the Board of Immigration Appeals permissibly found, the German authorities have not singled out the Romeikes in particular or homeschoolers in general for persecution."
HSLDA, which is representing the Romeikes, denied the 6th Circuit panel's finding.
"If facing outrageous fines, unending criminal prosecution, and the threat of having your children taken from you isn't persecution, I don't know what is," said Michael Donnelly, HSLDA's director for international relations, in a written statement. "The German Supreme Court itself acknowledges that parents who homeschool for religious or philosophical reasons are targeted for unequal treatment."
HSLDA says it will appeal to the Supreme Court if the 6th Circuit refuses to rehear the case.
Compiled by Baptist Press Washington bureau chief Tom Strode. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
Copyright (c) 2013 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press www.BPNews.net
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