A German family who claims they were repeatedly harassed for home schooling their five children were granted political asylum in the United States in what some are calling an unprecedented move by a U.S. immigration judge.
Uwe Romeike and his family fled to Memphis, Tenn., in August 2008, after years of what they argued was persecution over their desire to pull their children out of public and private schools and home school them. Now, less than two years later, the family will be permitted to stay in the United States and apply for citizenship.
"The Romeikes are Christians who believe as a matter of conscience that their faith requires them to teach their own children," said Mike Donnelly, the family's attorney who is also the director of international relations of the Home School Legal Defense Association, a nonprofit advocacy organization that works on behalf of parents' constitutional rights.
The lawyer said he doesn't believe an asylum case centered on home schooling has ever before been granted.
Political asylum in the United States is only granted if an individual can prove they were persecuted for at least one of five reasons: race, political opinion, nationality, religion and membership of a social group.
A transcript of the court proceedings were not immediately available, but Donnelly said that Judge Lawrence Burman stated in his opinion that he was granting the Romeikes political asylum because he believed they had been persecuted because of their religion as well as their membership in a social group, in their case a group of home schooling parents.
"Homeschoolers are a particular social group that the German government is trying to suppress. This family has a well-founded fear of persecution. ... Therefore, they are eligible for asylum," said Burman, "And the court will grant asylum."
Romeikes Say They Fled to Tennessee After German Authorities Harassed Them
The Romeikes declined to speak with ABCNews.com, but Donnelly relayed a message from the family saying that they are "ecstatic" with the outcome.
"They are very grateful to be able to stay in a country that respects different ways to educate children and the rights of parents to make that decision," said Donnelly.
The lawyer said the Romeikes applied for asylum because "They were concerned about things going on in the public schools, the bullying and the curriculum that they felt taught ideas that were against their faith and were compelled to home school their kids."
Donnelly said that the Romeikes eventually decided they had no choice but to leave the German state of Baden-Wuerttemberg when police officers and social service officials showed up at their doorstep and took their children to school against their wishes.
Under certain German state laws, children are required to attend public or private school, and home schooling is not permitted.
The Romeikes were fined upward of $10,000 for not enrolling their children in public or private schools, according to Donnelly.
A spokesman for the Tennessee branch of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement told ABCNews.com that ICE "reserves its right to appeal the decision and has 30 days in which to file an appeal if they choose."
Kathryn Mattingly, a spokeswoman at the immigration court in Memphis, said she had "no comment" regarding the case.
Strict Requirements to Be Granted Asylum
The German Consulates General did not immediately respond to an interview request by ABCNews.com but told The Associated Press in a written statement that German parents have a "wide range of education options for their children," and that the "mandatory school attendance policy ensures a high standard of learning for all children."
Donald Kerwin, a lawyer and asylum expert at the Migration and Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., said the strict requirements one must meet to apply for political asylum makes it hard for some families to succeed in similar court hearings the way the Romeikes did.
"There may be families who have hardships that are significantly greater than asylum seekers who actually get political asylum, but because they wouldn't necessarily meet the standards, they don't get [the same ruling]," said Kerwin.
"People have long recognized that the definition and eligibility for political asylum leaves out people who suffer extreme hardship, and I think that's a problem."