US grants asylum to new oppressed group: German home-schoolers

The New York Times reports today that a family from Germany has been granted asylum on the basis of home-schooling.

The family has been here for some time, having left Germany in 2008. But it was not until Jan. 26 that a federal immigration judge in Memphis granted them political asylum, ruling that they had a reasonable fear of persecution for their beliefs if they returned.

In a harshly worded decision, the judge, Lawrence O. Burman, denounced the German policy, calling it “utterly repellent to everything we believe as Americans,” and expressed shock at the heavy fines and other penalties the government has levied on home-schooling parents, including taking custody of their children.

Describing home-schoolers as a distinct group of people who have a “principled opposition to government policy,” he ruled that the Romeikes would face persecution both because of their religious beliefs and because they were “members of a particular social group,” two standards for granting asylum.

The “members of a particular social group” category has been getting a lot of attention of late. Women fleeing domestic violence that is not addressed by local authorities is now a standard asylum-recognized group, as are homosexuals in countries in which violence against homosexuals is tolerated. And now home-schoolers, in countries that do not recognize home schooling as legitimate. “Persecution” now includes large fines and the police coming to your home and taking your children to school. It seems to me that this relies on a somewhat new definition of persecution, one in which the intention of the persecutor may be beneficial (as opposed to a definition in which the intention is malicious).

This “welfare state as persecutor” is not without precedent — ask anyone who has been a defendant in Family Court — but it is completely new as the basis for seeking asylum.


2 Responses to “US grants asylum to new oppressed group: German home-schoolers”

  1. 1 Benjamin Rosenbaum March 15, 2010 at 10:59 am

    A definition of persecution which does not cover persecutors with beneficial intentions is an extremely impoverished definition. Consider, for example, Roma children who were forcibly taken from their parents to be adopted by white folks by the charitable agency pro juventute in the 1950s; the agency was presumably wholly sincere in not wanting children to grow up “under those conditions”. The same policies were often used to take children away from Native American societies, for instance. There were plenty of slaveholders who sincerely thought of slavery as good for the slaves, and plenty of people throughout history who felt that conversion by the sword, or the Inquisition, were justified in order to save souls.

    • 2 andyrasmussen March 15, 2010 at 11:17 am

      I point you to none other than Adam Smith (yes, The Wealth of Nations Adam Smith), who is the source of one of my favorite quotes: “Virtue is more to be feared than vice, because its excesses are not subject to the regulation of conscience.” Indeed, today’s virtue often becomes tomorrow’s vice (eugenics, for instance, or any of the examples you provide). The question is whether or not our asylum law should make a distinction between persecution based on a current notions of “virtue” and one based on current notions of… well, “non-virtue.” Perhaps the larger point is that these categories are fluid; the home-schooling case is an extreme example of this fluidity.

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