A Well-Founded Fear of School?
posted by Jaya Ramji-Nogales
Tuesday’s Washington Post discusses an intriguing asylum case: an immigration judge in Memphis granted asylum to a German couple who fled their homeland to avoid its mandatory schooling policy. Uwe Romeike, along with his wife and five chilren, are evangelical Christians who had decided to homeschool their children both because they believed the public school curriculum to be “against Christian values” and because their children faced violence, bullying, and peer pressure in public schools. The Romeikes took their children out of school in their home state of Baden-Wuerttemberg in 2006, and paid fines of approximately $10,000 over 2 years for doing so. That state constitution requires that children attend public or private schools; parents who refuse to comply can face fines or even jail time, or in severe cases, Germany’s highest appellate court ruled that social service officials could remove children from their parents.
There are so many interesting angles to the decision that it’s hard to know where to start. Some might question whether the ability to choose how to school one’s child is a fundamental human right that should be protected by asylum law. The German consul for the Southeast U.S. noted that “German parents have a wide range of educational options for their children.” Should the Romeikes be sent back to Germany on the assumption that they could find a religious school that provided instruction acceptable to their value system? Under U.S. asylum law, if internal relocation is an option to avoid persecution, applicants must move within their own country to find safety before coming to the United States. The Romeikes had the option not only of relocating within Germany but also, as citizens of the European Union, of living and working in any member state (some of which allow home schooling and others of which surely offer affordable education that accords with evangelical religious values).
The involvement of the German consul also raises questions about the appropriateness of immigration court as a messenger in foreign affairs. Romeike’s lawyer said that he took on the case in part because he hoped to influence public opinion in Germany, while the consul defended the law as a policy decision that “ensures a high standard of learning for all children.” Should our immigration courts be questioning the policy judgments of solidly democratic nations with robust and procedurally fair legal systems? Asylum has for many years been used as a political tool, for better or for worse, but this seems one step too far. In any case, I’m interested in readers’ thoughts — are the Romeikes modern-day pilgrims, or is this just another misguided decision by our dysfunctional immigration courts?