A German family that fled to the United States in 2008 to home school their children is on the verge of deportation after a Tennessee appeals court denied a request for asylum.
Uwe and Hannelore Romeike, devout Christians from the southwest of Germany who now have six children, came to the United States in 2008 after the German government threatened them with legal action for home-schooling their children, which is banned in Germany.
They were initially granted asylum by a US judge who believed Germany had restricted their religious freedom.
The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, however, ruled this week in favor of the Obama administration, which challenged the family's asylum on the grounds that Germany's ban on home-schooling did not constitute persecution and thus could not be used as a basis for political asylum in the United States.
"We are very disappointed in the decision by the Sixth Circuit to deny political asylum to the Romeike family who wants the freedom to home-school their children," said Michael Farris, the Romeike family's attorney and the chairman of the Home School Legal Defense Association, in a statement emailed to ABC News.
"The decision of the court fails to even discuss the unchallenged evidence of Germany's motive in banning homeschooling. The German Supreme Court says that they want to suppress religious and philosophical minorities," the statement read.
"I can't think of any reason other than bias against Christians and homeschoolers [for the decision]," Farris told ABC News. "I have vowed to fight to the very end on this, this is an injustice of a significant magnitude," he said.
Farris also expressed frustration over what he perceives as the Obama administration singling out the Romeike family for deportation, despite its support of a Senate bill that would potentially legalize 11 million estimated unlawful immigrants currently residing in the United States.
"You can't look at the lenient attitude to 11 million people who came here for economic opportunity, why we would not treat people who come here for economic freedom on par with people who came here for religious freedom I don't understand," said Farris.
Michael Donnelly, an attorney for the Romeike family, told ABC News the family remains hopeful.
"They feel very comfortable that, in the end, things are going to work out for them," he said. "There is a lot of support for this family in Congress, it is possible that Congress might take some action."
Farris said the family is planning to appeal the decision first to the entire Sixth Circuit Court and to the Supreme Court, if necessary.
The Justice Department did not immediately comment.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement cited a policy not to comment on litigation pending in federal court.
Home schooling has been illegal in Germany since 1918, when school attendance was made compulsory. Parents who choose to home-school anyway face financial penalties and legal consequences, including the potential loss of custody of their children.
U.S. law says that individuals can qualify for asylum if they can prove they are being persecuted because of their religion or because they are members of a particular "social group."
"They are trying to establish that they are eligible for asylum under the social group category, which is a difficult group to prove, in the first place," Karla McKanders, an asylum and refugee law specialist at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, told ABC News.
McKanders added that public policy implications as far as the United States' relationship with Germany could also be in play in this case, and that immigration officials may be wary of setting a precedent that establishes home schooling as a means for asylum.
"They don't want to open up the floodgates for similar asylum claims based on these grounds," she said.
Recent changes in immigration enforcement policy are also in play.
In 2011 the Obama administration initiated a new policy called "prosecutorial discretion" that gives the government broad power to pursue only high-priority cases. The policy was designed to give Department of Homeland Security the power to decide which deportation proceedings it wishes to pursue.
"This case would probably fall under one of those cases that should be a low priority, because you have a family that is fleeing based on their own beliefs," McKanders said. "They, of course, do not have a criminal background, so it should be one of those cases where they are not spending a lot of resources, but it's not."
"The attorney general has the authority at any point in time to grant the family asylum," said Donnelly, who added that he hoped that eventually would be what happens. "These folks should be allowed to stay, they meet the standard."
Farris has also petitioned the White House to allow the Romeike family to remain in the country.
"Every state in the United States of America recognizes the right to home school, and the U.S. has the world's largest and most vibrant home school community," read the formal petition on the White House website. "Regrettably, this family faces deportation in spite of the persecution they will suffer in Germany. The Romeikes hope for the same freedom our forefathers sought."
- Politics & Government
- Michael Farris
- Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals