Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Homeschooling, Asylum, and the Attorney General

Dear homeschooling community:

Despite what you may have heard, the arguments presented by the Department Justice in the case involving German homeschoolers do not pose a direct threat to your homeschooling freedoms.

Over the last few weeks I’ve watch as, in a game of online telephone, this story has evolved from HSLDA’s Mike Farris’ musings, to the question of whether domestic homeschooling rises or falls with this case to, finally, “Holder vs. home schooling.”

Unfortunately, in the hysteria, the actual issue at stake seems to have been lost.

As a brief background on the case, in January of 2010, an Immigration Judge granted asylum to the family. The Department of Homeland Security appealed that decision to the Board of Immigration Appeals, which reversed the Immigration Judge in May of 2012. The family has now appealed to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals and is awaiting a decision. Once that decision is made, the losing side can request the Supreme Court for review.

Three primary issues need to be remembered as we think about this case.

First, the dispute is not really about constitutional rights. Yes, parental rights are considered a fundamental constitutional right here in the United States, but that is largely beside the point. Since the German state is not bound by our Constitution, whether it has “violated” it or whether its actions would be permitted if conducted by a US political entity is immaterial. Germany, as a sovereign political entity, has the authority to make the laws governing German citizens.

Asylum, in a general sense, is inherently a check on sovereignty. And it must be couched in such terms. More than a mere preference, it is a statement that the oppressing state acted in an illegitimate manner toward its citizens. This transfers the debate about homeschooling from one of US Constitutional rights (which are largely irrelevant to asylum claims) to one of international human rights.

As I’ve written before, there is support for parental choice in education being a peremptory human right. That, and not domestic constitutional rights language, is where the debate lies. This case does have the potential to make a large impact on the status of parental rights in the international sphere, and for that reason I’m hopeful that the family wins. But even if the family loses, Eric Holder won’t be sending out SWAT teams to round up US homeschooling families.

Second, the litigation is not concentrated on whether the homeschooling family is wanted, is desirable, or would otherwise make a positive contribution to the nation. It is not about whether the family should or can homeschool here. The government is not attempting to deport them because they homeschool. Instead, the question is whether Germany’s denial of the family’s right to homeschool makes them a “refugee.” If it does not, they do not have legal immigration status and, like all others without status, they would be required to leave or find some other way to obtain status.

To qualify as a refugee the family must show that they are someone “who is persecuted or who has a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.” INA 101(a)(42)(B); 8 USC § 1101(a)(42)(B).

This definition is easily broken into two parts, the treatment part (persecution) and the prosecutor's motivation (“on account of...”). Even if “persecution”--which Congress never bothered to define--is shown, only certain types of persecution make one eligible for asylum. The persecuting government must be doing the persecution “on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.”

The litigation before the Sixth Circuit includes parts of both elements. First, the government is making the case that Germany’s treatment of the family does not amount to persecution. Under the legal standard, not every form of mistreatment constitutes persecution. It must reach a certain level of seriousness--often including physical beatings or threats of death. However, it can also include economic coercion. For the German family, even the initial Immigration Judge who granted asylum did not find that they had suffered past persecution. However, he did find that they had a well-founded fear of future persecution based on Germany’s treatment of homeschoolers in general.

But persecution aside, the family also has to show that they were targeted on “on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.” Race, nationality, and political opinion are not even being argued, so the only two arguments the family is using are religion and membership in a particular social group. Religion is tricky, since while the law does interfere with their religions beliefs, it is a general law that does not single them out or in any other way target them. Social group is the other argument, but that term is so loosely defined and unclear that there is little hope to avoid litigation when asserting it. That German homeschoolers are a particular social group is certainly a strong argument, but it is not one that asylum law has previously recognized, so it should not be surprising that DOJ would resist.

And asylum claims against general laws are often unsuccessful, the most notorious example being the BIA’s 1989 holding that those fleeing China’s one-child policy were not eligible for asylum (in 1996 the asylum definition was specifically amended to fix this). Conscientious objectors to a general draft law have also been denied. The rationale here is that states have authority to pass laws that apply to everyone, and absent something extreme, enforcing that law is not persecution on account of one of the protected grounds.

So, although one can characterize the government’s motivations in continuing the litigation as opposition to homeschooling, it is just as easy to interpret it as a strict adherence to our immigration laws. And isn’t that something conservatives want?

Third, it is dangerous to impose personal motivations on the attorneys or departments based on their positions. If this approach were viable, then the following conclusions must also be drawn:

  • That the Bush administration, and specifically Attorney General Ashcroft, supported child soldiers in Uganda (asylum granted by Third Circuit, but DOJ litigated against, 2003).

  • That the Bush Administration somehow wanted the death of Edgar Chocoy, the Guatemalan teen who escaped a gang with a price on his head, made it to the United States, and claimed asylum. His claim was denied and he was returned to Guatemala. He was shot to death one week later.

And that is only a small sample of the asylum cases either denied or objected to by the US government over the past thirty years. DHS/DOJ routinely denies or opposes asylum claims from those who believe they are going back to situations much worse than the German family. That is their job.

Please don’t get me wrong. Germany is violating peremptory human rights in its denial of homeschooling freedoms, and the family should be granted asylum. But the mere fact that the attorneys at DOJ oppose what they see as an expansion of asylum law--as they routinely oppose situations much worse than this--is no grounds to vilify them.

If anything, the litigation calls into question whether our asylum law is too strict.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Friday miscellaneous (2/22)

It has been a little over a year since I started doing Friday miscellaneous posts. You can read the very first one here.

The healthcare reform law is starting to kick in. Universal Orlando is dropping part time workers from its health insurance plan. And another estimate says that some of the the young and healthy could be facing tripling rates.

Senator Marco Rubio is having the last laugh after his famous (or infamous) sip of water during his response to President Obama’s State of the Union speech.

Have you heard of the Nazi invasion of Winnipeg, Canada? It was quite well publicized at the time. And speaking of untold WWII stories, have you heard of the time Eleanor Roosevelt toured the country with a female Soviet sniper?

With the impending resignation of the pope, some are calling for the first African pope. Which would be difficult, as there have already been three.

Oh the irony: Ron Paul, longtime opponent of the UN and vocal spokesperson for private property has asked the UN to give him ronpaul.com, a site owned by a group of his fans.

We like to think of ourselves as givers of foreign aid, but there are some American communities that are actually recipients of aid, specifically from the United Arab Emirates.

One of the problems with restrictive immigration laws is, well, that they’re restrictive. The consequence is that we’ve gotten into the pattern of training people who then go start companies in other countries because they can’t stay here.

This is one of the best articles I’ve read on Russia’s President Putin.

Rod Dreher wonders if natural law arguments have a fundamental unpersuasiveness in today’s culture.

And finally, I suspect that next time dad gets the ice cream while mom watches the kids.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Hero or Villain

Last year, on one of my business trips, I gave a talk on heroes. Since then, that short lecture has probably generated more conversation than any of my other speeches. Generation Joshua even did a blog series on heroes, loosely based on my talk. One question I still get is: what makes a hero? To answer that question, I’d like to journey back a few years to my time at college. During that time, AIM was big and my screen name was TheB1ackPrince. Several people asked me why I would choose a name like “the Black Prince.” 
First, on the Black Prince:

If you’re not the kind of person who likes to read about medieval British wars, you may not know who the Black Prince was. He was the Prince of Wales during the 14th century, and was famous for turning the odds in battles and grasping victory from the jaws of defeat. He is also infamous for commissioning the Massacre of Limoges, an incident involving the death of around 3,000 Frenchmen. Given this, why would I use the name of someone so clearly flawed?

As I’ve said many times before, I don’t think that my heroes need to be perfect. In fact, I like it when they have lots of flaws; if they can do great things with their faults, I might be able to do something even with all of mine. At the moment, many heroes come to mind, each with many weaknesses (sins).  King David is undisputedly a biblical hero, one we should look to with admiration and respect. He, however, also fell—and fell far—despite being a man after God’s own heart. Does that disqualify him from being a hero? No! He’s still a hero in my book; he’s still a hero listed in the New Testament.

Then, I look at other heroes: I admire Martin Luther King Jr. and his great work to fight racism in America, and I mourn his personal failings. I esteem President Reagan and his amazing triumphs in contributing to the downfall of the Soviet Union, and I lament his failure to have real friends. I read about President Lincoln and the way he almost single-handedly held my country together, and at the same time I learn about his family failures. I revere the upright honor of Robert E. Lee, but I grieve his choice to fight for the South that cost so many lives. I stand amazed at the words and ideas put forward by Thomas Jefferson, while at the same time, I bewail his utter lack of self-restraint to live out his ideals of virtue and freedom in his own life.

Do these varied shortcomings disqualify these men as heroes?  No, not at all.  God used each of these men to do great things that still impact me today, years later. They made choices just like we do. Sometimes they made the right choices and sometimes they were the wrong ones. But I choose to learn from and be inspired by the good things my heroes did. I look at myself, and see many shortcomings. But I hope that, despite my blunders, I can struggle onward and leave a legacy, much as my heroes did.

If you want to point out the errors of my heroes: go right ahead. And if you want to do the same to my errors: that works too. I know I have many flaws, and I make many mistakes. God, however, is a merciful God who will use me despite my shortcomings.

Heroes come in different shapes and sizes. But if they inspire you to fight on and do what’s right, then they have done their job. I guess the next question is: are you going to let your flaws turn you into a villain, or are you going to rise above your faults and inspire others by defeating the villain within you and becoming a hero?

Post by Jeremiah Lorrig

Friday, February 15, 2013

Friday miscellaneous (2/15)

Is Hoth Darth Vader’s biggest military blunder? Some say yes, others disagree.

And speaking of Star Wars, what if Han Solo were a time traveler? (Wouldn’t that give JJ Abrams something to work with?) Oh, and here’s a car that tried to be the Millennium Falcon--and freaked out its owner.

Immigration reform is getting an ally in parts of the Christian Right (but not all are happy about this).

Recently Dr. Benjamin Carson caught national attention with his speech at the National Prayer Breakfast. NRO gives some background on Dr. Carson.

I’m not looking for ways to pick on David Barton. But it looks like his second amendment scholarship suffers from some of the same problems as his Thomas Jefferson scholarship (i.e. misleadingly doctored quotes).

One retired high school teacher recently issued a warning to college professors: students aren’t prepared for college level work.

The Atlantic speculates: are cars and robust cities incompatible?

And in an era of charged emotions regarding clean energy, why is the US capital still burning coal? (Hint: It appears to be political.)

And finally, in honor of Valentine's Day.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Strictest School in the World

Writing about Flavia de Luce’s adventures last week reminded me of another YA fiction book I read awhile back.

But when I sat down to write this review, I realized that the subtitle told you practically everything you needed to know.

After all, a title such as: The Strictest School in the World: Being the Tale of a Clever Girl, a Rubber Boy and a Collection of Flying Machines, Mostly Broken doesn’t leave all that much out.

(Except the pterodactyls. They somehow didn’t make it into the subtitle.)

Of course, should that not prove exciting enough, there’s always the (not quite as good but still intriguing) sequel.

Ready for it?

And the third (which I must admit to not reading, as it was not yet published when I read the first two).

Island of Mad Scientists, The: Being an Excursion to the Wilds of Scotland, Involving Many Marvels of Experimental Invention, Pirates, a Heroic Cat, a Mechanical Man and a Monkey

So there you have it. Yet another set of madcap adventures.

Click here for more book reviews.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Politics of Immigration Reform (Blair’s Lessons, part VI)

This semester, as I may have mentioned, I am participating in MSU’s Immigration Law Clinic in lieu of taking classes. I am also writing a 30ish page paper on asylum law. So as you can imagine, I am following the ongoing immigration policy discussions somewhat closely (at least, as closely as a law student in his final semester can). I hope I have not hidden my opinion too much regarding the need for reformation. (Jeremiah also has written a three-part series on immigration.)

One issue, though, that I would love to hear more about is how other nations’ immigration systems work. Surely, we can’t be the only nation experiencing some of these challenges, right?

Then Tony Blair started talking about immigration in his autobiography. And he has a fascinating perspective of both the immigration issue and the political posturing that takes place around it. Allow me to quote at length:

The Tories had one good issue to beat us with: immigration. In our early years, we had a real problem with asylum claims made by people who were really economic immigrants. The system to deal with such claims was, as I described earlier, hopelessly out of date. Eventually and after much bureaucratic agony, we had battered it into shape, but illegal immigration persisted as an issue. Britain was not the only country facing such a problem, of course, but I watched with dismay as progressive parties around Europe, one after another, got the immigration issue wrong and lost. 
People on the left are, on the whole, people with immensely decent instincts on migration. They loathe racism and know the issue of immigration is often a carrier for the racist virus. When people in Britain used to say they were against immigration, a goodly portion would really be against a particular type of immigrant, i.e. a black or brown face. It was unspoken, but everyone knew it was there. 
So the tendency for those on the left was to equate concern about immigration with underlying racism. This was a mistake. The truth is that immigration, unless properly controlled, can cause genuine tensions, put a strain on limited resources and provide a sense in the areas into which the migrants come in large numbers that the community has lost control of its own future. In our case this concern was natural, given the numbers involved. It was not inspired by racism. And it was widespread. What’s more, there were certain categories of immigrant flow, from certain often highly troubled parts of the world, who imported their own internal issues, from those troubled parts of the world, into the towns and villages in Britain. Unsurprisingly, this caused real anxiety.
Every time we regulated and tightened the asylum laws, I would get grief from well-intentioned progressives who thought I was “conceding” to racism. I used to explain that it was precisely to avoid racism that we had to do it. The laws were a mess. The political challenge was to prevent subjective racism building up into a coalition that was mainstream. But time and again across Europe, right-wing parties would propose tough controls on immigration. Left-wing parties would cry: Racist. The people would say: You don’t get it. 
The Tories were desperate to push us into the same bind, so they began a high-profile assault on illegal immigration, claiming that it was not racist to be worried about it and hoping that we would say that it was. Of course, I insisted we did no such thing. 
Instead, some way into the campaign I visited Dover, where unfounded asylum claimants were often lodged, and made a speech that directly took on the issue. Gwyn Prosse, the MP for Dover, was someone on the left himself, and canny enough to understand that if he wasn’t armed with an argument that conceded there was a problem, he was not going to be re-elected. I praised the contribution of immigration. I described how we were going to tackle it. I attacked the Tories for raising the issue without having a policy to deal with it, i.e. they were exploiting the issue, not solving the problem. Rather to their surprise, I put ID cards at the centre of the argument, reasoning that some system of identity check was the only serious way of meeting the challenge. Essentially, after that speech we shut down the Tory attack, and for once the media actually allowed an issue to be aired and debated. Because our position was sophisticated enough—a sort of “confess and avoid,” as the lawyers say—we won out.
Naturally, this makes me look for US parallels. Which party today is the one raising the issue but offering no solution (i.e. merely exploiting it)? Are there elements of racism in one side or the other? Do the liberals who favor amnesty have a way to balance that with community interests? Could the conservatives who are arguing that all we need is stricter enforcement support something like a national ID or greater law enforcement presence (especially considering that immigration law enforcement is expensive and fraught with problems)?

But I think what was most refreshing was hearing someone who supports the “liberal” position conceding that the “conservative” opposition raised a valid point. 
My inclination, along with Blair's, is to take the more liberal side in this debate. But what I especially appreciate about his analysis is that he actually took the strongest opposing point he could find. He then engaged the point, resisting the temptation to name call. Notice his strategy, though. First he conceded the point was valid, then he stole it, and finally he made the opposition look silly for still talking about a problem they had no solution for, but that he did.

Also in this series:
Reforming Political Parties (Blair's Lessons, part I)

Monday, February 11, 2013

What Authority Do You Have Over Me?

Back when I was fifteen, I used to referee for a homeschool flag football league. My job was to make the calls and keep track of the points. Most of the time, it was easy. But one play stuck with me. The action was right on the sideline opposite me. I saw the kid step out-of-bounds as he dashed all the way down the field. Thinking he had scored, the boy danced triumphantly around the infield. I, however, made the call—he had gone out-of-bounds. I started to set the ball. The kids immediately began arguing with my decision. But I was in charge, and I had made my call. Just then, a “helpful” mom came over and offered me her video camera. Apparently, she had recorded the alleged touchdown.

She started to play it back and within a few seconds the dancing kid was cheering. The video evidence confirmed: he had stayed in bounds. I was less than thrilled. I had made my call. I was the authority on that field. I wanted to hold my ground. It was my RIGHT to say no. The problem was that it would have been wrong for me to do so.

A pastor once told me that fixing everything isn’t my job. He explained that there are certain institutions in life that have authority over people. The Bible talks about authority in relation to governments, families, churches, businesses, and friendships. Each of these have unique applications for what kind of authority they have and how it can be used.

The government has the authority to punish evil and reward good. Along with that comes the command authority to make laws and enforce them on society. Under certain extreme circumstances, a higher authority may require that we disobey a tyrannical government, but, in general, we are under the government and we must obey its agents; they have “command authority” over us.

Authority in the family is a bit different. The Bible calls on children to obey their parents much as it calls on everyone to obey government. But, as children grow up, the biblical requirement changes from obeying their parents to honoring them. Parents move from a role of “command authority” to a position more like that of an adviser. We respect them and give special weight to what they say because they have wisdom for us and because they have known us longer than anyone else. But, in the end, we are responsible for our own actions. (Within familial authority, there is also husband-wife authority, but I will not even try  to go into that here. This post is already way too long and even starting on that subject would turn it into a tome.)

Church authority is interesting because an individual pastor doesn't seem to have much authority at all. It is almost the opposite from the governing authority. Generally a church doesn't have command authority, but there are exceptions. Church authority comes into play when faced with a need to confront ongoing sin and (sometimes) to excommunicate people from the church. The rest of the time, however, the authority of a church is more like the authority of an adult’s parent; it’s primarily a source of wise council.

Business authority is unique in that it’s based primarily on contracts. This means that business authority can go from involving extreme amounts of command authority to involving almost none.  Regardless, we are commanded to work hard for our bosses and that includes submitting to them for as long as they are over us. In a sense, they own our labor, and we must honor that.

The last area where I see a Biblical grant of authority is an area that almost never comes up in this context. It’s the authority that friends have in our lives. This kind of authority is special because, unlike the rest, this authority only goes as far as it is given. For example: You can talk with me about girl problems because I let you. I didn't have to let you, but I do. This allows you to get serious and ask probing questions that we are both okay with. Accountability based relationships operate on the same principle. You give someone authority over part of you.  It is all based on trust and relationship. If one of these isn't strong, then there isn't real authority there.

Matthew 18 explains that we can confront a fellow believer if they have sinned against us, but this isn't permission to try to fix every Christian we run into. It also isn't permission to call out every problem. In fact, I don’t think it’s possible for us to try to fix everyone we meet without usurping either the authority of friendship or the authority of the church.

There are many problems that God has placed within each of our individual spheres of authority; it may be our duty to engage these issues. But there are also many problems in areas outside of our spheres, and we must resist the urge to act outside of our authority in our zeal to right wrongs. Sometimes we need to step back and analyze things so we can to figure out whether we have proper authority to try to fix a problem.

When I first figured out this concept, it was incredibly freeing. I realized that the problems God has placed within my authority are more than enough to keep me busy—I don't need to try to right every wrong.

But turn it around for a second: not only can you not fix every problem, but not everyone can fix your problems.

For instance, imagine a policeman. He may very well be a wonderful guy. But you should not go to him for help with leaving a drug habit. He might be forced to arrest you and you won’t get the mentoring that you need to deal with the spiritual problems that underpin the issue. That police officer is doing what God has called him to, but some ministry opportunities are now closed him.

I hope some of this is somewhat helpful. I like to paraphrase Lewis who said that he wrote to help people understand. If it helps, great! If not, discard it. I will not be offended.

Post by Jeremiah Lorrig 

Friday, February 8, 2013

Friday miscellaneous (2/8)

Biggest news this week wasn’t the sports or political (although it sorta includes both). Instead, Britain’s Richard III was declared winner of the longest game of hide and seek ever when his body was found under a parking lot. (How did he end up there, you might wonder.)

But considering hiding places, does anyone else share my love of secret doors? And while Richard III didn’t get what one would consider a proper burial, these ice cream flavors did. And now for the puzzling question: which is more strange, the king under the parking lot or the fake diplomatic tour of a battleship?

Alright, enough frivolity. This week also had some serious stories.

Like why the clocks in Grand Central Station are all wrong.

Or what happens when a truck full of fireworks explodes.

Or how Vladimir Putin may be losing his grip on Russia.

The Washington Post did a nice story on Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

Dr. Mark Mitchell brings some sanity (if few answers) to the gun debate.

The Wall Street Journal tackles immigration, economy, Social Security, higher education, and housing costs all at once:

For more than three decades, Chinese women have been subjected to their country's brutal one-child policy. Those who try to have more children have been subjected to fines and forced abortions. Their houses have been razed and their husbands fired from their jobs. As a result, Chinese women have a fertility rate of 1.54. Here in America, white, college-educated women—a good proxy for the middle class—have a fertility rate of 1.6. America has its very own one-child policy. And we have chosen it for ourselves.
And speaking of immigration, one author argues that “illegal immigrants” are in reality just the lowest tier of admission. And the Washington Post (likely not inspired by my article, but I can always hope), presents five myths about the immigration process.

BBC gives insights into what happens at atheist “churches”.

This is strange, but has anyone else heard about the year without a summer? Apparently it contributed to the writing of Frankenstein.

Here’s a nice iconographic regarding student preparation for college.

This article presents a different side of the moral relativists, and offers suggestions on how the Christian apologist can engage with them.

And finally, a rousing and inspirational speech from the Confederacy.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

An incorrigible detective

Flavia de Luce is a normal 11 year-old living in England in the 1950s. She is tormented by her older sisters, in need of a mother, virtually ignored by everyone else, misunderstood, bright, and a legend in her own mind.

And she is an amateur chemist,

who lives with her Father (an ardent stamp collector) and two sisters (the aforementioned persecutors) in an ancient Victorian house,

and she has a passion for poisons,

and the habit of discovering dead bodies (no, they are not connected to her love of poisons—the worst she uses that for is to add the occasional skin irritant to her sister’s makeup kits).

Ok, so maybe she isn’t quite normal. But she wouldn’t have it any other way.

We first meet Miss de Luce in The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, blindfolded and locked in a closet. How she got there, and how she escapes, are matters beyond the scope of this review. Needless to say, she does.

Only to discover a corpse in the cucumber patch, of all places.

She then strikes up a friendly rivalry with the local police Inspector Hewett, each trying to solve the case first. As the new corpse is tied to an old one, the case gets beyond what anyone initially imagined. (Were Inspector Hewett to be asked about the “rivalry,” he would likely wryly grin and characterize it as Miss de Luce getting in the way of the investigation. So it’s probably best we didn’t ask him.)

But then, Flavia has always been like that. The author Alan Bradley describes her thus:

"Like Athena, who sprang fully formed and fully armed from the brow of Zeus, Flavia simply appeared," the author says, speaking from his home in British Columbia. "She walked onto the page of another book I was writing, and simply hijacked the story. I had no idea who she was or where she came from, and because of that, I resisted her. It took Flavia a while to make me shut up and listen." 
More than hijacking the story, Flavia eventually forced the abandonment of the project. 
"I was working on another book set in the 50s about this young woman broadcaster on an exchange programme. I was well into it - about three or four  chapters - and as I introduced a main character, another detective, there was a point were he was required to go to a country house and interview this colonel," Bradley recalls. 
"I got him up to the driveway and there was this girl sat on a camp stool doing something with a notebook and a pencil and he stopped and asked her what she was going and she said 'writing down number plates' and he said 'well there can't many in such a place' and she said, 'well I have your's'. I came to  a stop. I had no idea who this girl was and where she came from, and I couldn’t get past that point until I sorted out who she was."
The author is now five books in with one more scheduled, and I’m still not sure he has sorted out exactly who this utterly precocious and incorrigible heroine is. Nor am I sure it’s even possible.
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