The couple was granted asylum in 2010 but the decision was later reversed.
A German couple that was granted asylum in the U.S. 15 years ago after fleeing their home country to homeschool their children free from state persecution expects to be deported soon on recent orders from the Biden administration.
In the early 2000s, devout Christians Uwe and Hannelore Romeike sent their children to public school in Germany but soon realized the radical progressive bent of the curriculum. The pair scanned elementary-level English Language Arts books their kids would be reading and found a lot of anti-Christian propaganda.
“It promoted praying to the devil rather than God, disobeying your parents, and teachers as authorities,” Uwe told National Review. “There were stories about witchcraft. The only thing I found about Christian belief was about bunnies and eggs for Easter.”
Germany harbors religious animus toward Christians and this is reflected in the education system, they said.
“I remember a story in one of those readers where the verdict was, ‘God won’t hear you. If you ask Satan, he will help you,’” Uwe said.
Many of the books, however, were not even available for parents to review.
“You don’t get to see all the books they use because they started, maybe 20 years ago, leaving the books at school, supposedly so they don’t have to carry heavy bags,” Uwe said. “We think it’s more so the parents don’t see what’s in them.”
Hannelore said that Germany doesn’t care about curriculum transparency and keeps parents in the dark intentionally.
“We can see it here now too,” she said, noting that modern public education is “sexualizing our children.”
Appalled by the German public-school curricula, the Romeikes, in 2006, decided to homeschool their children, in defiance of the law.
“It is illegal in Germany,” Uwe said. He said the government had, however, mostly deferred to the local authorities and school districts, making enforcement somewhat arbitrary. The couple had heard of families who, after paying a fine, were mostly left alone and did homeschooling under the radar. But when the Romeikes entered the homeschooling underground, Germany had really started cracking down, they said.
“It seems like when we started in 2006 it was getting tougher and harder,” Uwe said. “They had to pay higher fines. Some were jailed.”
A few weeks after the family started homeschooling, the police showed up at their house and escorted their children to public school. Police started taking custody of kids from parents who homeschooled, even without court order. They took custody of the Romeike kids every morning for school and then returned them home in the afternoon. For half the day, Uwe and Hannelore lost control of their children.
“That was, for us, the threshold to leave,” Uwe said.
At a deep institutional level, Germany rejects the notion that parents should have any control over their child’s education, which should instead be left entirely in the hands of the state.
“So that’s what everybody does unless they are like the Romeikes and have a conviction that they actually want to raise their kids according to their own conscience, their own religion, their own faith structure. The German philosophy doesn’t permit that,” said Kevin Boden, an attorney with the Home School Legal Defense Association who is representing the Romeikes.
“It’s antithetical to everything we believe as in Americans and it’s pretty normal in German society,” he added.
In January 2010, a U.S. immigration court judge granted the family’s request for asylum on the grounds of their having a well-founded fear of persecution based on participation in a social group, in this case the homeschooling community.
The Obama administration appealed the order, reasoning that it was not a case of persecution but “prosecution.” In other words, Germany was merely applying its laws in barring the Romeikes from homeschooling.
“When you’re in the immigration context, and the asylum context, you have to demonstrate that the family is actually facing persecution and not just lawful prosecution based on valid laws within their home country,” said Boden.
In May 2012, the board of immigration appeals overturned the decision of the immigration judge, determining the Romeikes were lawfully prosecuted. The sixth circuit court agreed in a subsequent opinion. After the family exhausted their legal remedies, they appealed to the Supreme Court, which denied their petition. The Obama administration, amid public outcry, granted them deferred action status in 2013.
“All it means is, ‘we can take action, we’re just deferring doing so and at any point we could stop deferring it and take the action that they have the ability to take,’” Boden said.
For ten years, the family had been sitting in immigration limbo. Until a couple weeks ago, when U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement notified them of a “change in orders.” They were verbally told to ready their travel documents and come back in four weeks.
“It appears that deferred action has been revoked,” Boden said. “So now we’re in the process of moving out of the country. They weren’t given a specific timeline. It was, ‘get your passports and come back in four weeks.’”
While Germany’s harsh treatment of independent education is well documented — the country only permits homeschooling in the case of rare medical situations — the Romeikes did not expect to face similar hostility in the U.S.
“They never understood that we homeschooled because of reason of conscience,” Uwe said. “We are Christians. We believe in what the Bible says and teaches. But then we saw what was in the textbooks and we saw it was against what we believe. We could not do anything else but take them out of public school and start homeschooling. But that was not understood by the German government, and it was not understood here.”
Now a family of nine, the Romeikes still have three children who are being homeschooled, including one in fifth grade, one in seventh grade, and one in her senior year of high school. The youngest two were born in the U.S. and are therefore citizens, and the oldest two are married. Uwe and Hannelore even have a grandchild now.
“We have been here for 15 years, that’s most of the lives of our children,” Uwe said. “The youngest was three when we came, now she’s 18. The oldest is now 26.”
HSLDA is circulating a petition to “save homeschool refugees from being shipped back to their persecutors,” which will be presented to the Biden administration as a plea to let the family stay in the U.S.
“We don’t know what will happen in two weeks, whether they will be given additional time to clean up their affairs,” Boden said. “They own a home, he’s employed at a company, they have minor children that are U.S. citizens. There’s just tons of uncertainty about what will happen.”
The family is heartbroken that they may have to uproot their lives and leave the community they’ve built in Tennessee.
Uwe works as a pianist at their church and at a local Christian university, where he teaches piano and has many students. Their oldest children work in the U.S.
Having been gone for so many years, they don’t have any place to go in Germany, they said. They fear the older children won’t be able to find work in Germany because they grew up learning English and the German government will not recognize a homeschool diploma.
“Even for us as parents, in 15 years we have made many, many friends,” Uwe said. “We’ve been involved in the same church for over a decade. Our home is here in America, in Tennessee.”