Relief granted to German homeschoolers
WASHINGTON (BP) -- A German homeschooling couple and their children who are part of a Southern Baptist church have received notice from the Obama administration they will not be deported only a day after their hopes appeared dashed by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) announced Tuesday (March 4) it had been contacted by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) with news the federal entity would not deport Uwe and Hannelore Romeike and their seven children. DHS verbally informed HSLDA, which has represented the family in court, the Romeikes had been granted "indefinite deferred status," which means they will be able to remain in the United States permanently unless they violate the terms of that status.
The surprising turn of events came only a day after the Supreme Court announced it would not accept an appeal by the Romeikes to review a lower court's rejection of their request for asylum in this country.
The Romeikes and their seven children had been seeking to stay in the United States and avoid a forced return to Germany, where homeschooling is illegal. The devout Christian couple fled Germany with their five children in 2008 in the face of increasing fines and the risk of losing custody of their children in their home country unless the children attended school. They have had two more children born to them since arriving in the United States.
The parents and the five older Romeike children are members of First Baptist Church in Morristown, Tenn. Uwe serves as a deacon, as well as the church's pianist. The Romeikes, who joined First Baptist Church in April 2012, have lived in east Tennessee while in this country.
The Southern Baptist Convention's leading spokesman on religious freedom issues expressed hopefulness about the Obama administration's decision.
"I hope and pray that DHS will not deport this family and will stand for our long-held commitment to helping those oppressed for their religious convictions," said Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
Deporting the Romeikes would be "reprehensible," Moore said. "America has always sought to be a home for the oppressed around the world. Educating one's children according to one's religious convictions is a human right."
Returning the family to Germany would be "the repudiation of a great American heritage," he said. "This should remind us of how imperiled religious liberty is at home and around the world."
In announcing the DHS decision, HSLDA Chairman Michael Farris described it as "an amazing turnaround -- in just 24 hours" and "an incredible victory that I can only credit to Almighty God."
Farris also commended the Americans who spoke out for the Romeikes. "We believe that the public outcry made a huge impact," he said in a written statement.
Uwe Romeike said his family was glad to receive indefinite deferred status from DHS despite the inability to gain American citizenship soon.
"As long as we can live at peace here, we are happy," he said in a HSLDA news release. "We have always been ready to go wherever the Lord would lead us -- and I know my citizenship isn't really on earth. This has always been about our children. I wouldn't have minded staying in Germany if the mistreatment targeted only me -- but our whole family was targeted when German authorities would not tolerate our decision to teach our children -- that is what brought us here.
"I thank God for his hand of blessing and protection over our family. We thank the American government for allowing us to stay here and to peacefully homeschool our children -- it's all we ever wanted," said Uwe Romeike, who also expressed gratitude to friends, fellow homeschoolers and HSLDA.
The Supreme Court's March 3 announcement it would not review the Romeike's appeal appeared to leave limited hope the family would avoid deportation. The prospect of avoiding deportation seemed to rest with action by Congress or -- in what appeared to be an extreme longshot -- a reversal of course by President Obama. The Obama administration had opposed asylum for the Romeikes and had rebuffed appeals to grant that status to the family.
After the high court's order in the case was announced, HSLDA said it had not exhausted its options in trying to deliver the family from deportation.
"While this is the end of the line for normal legal appeals, we are not giving up," said Farris, who is lead counsel for the Romeikes.
"We will pursue changes to the asylum law in this country to insure that religious freedom is once again vigorously protected in our policy," Farris said in a written statement. "I am just glad that the Pilgrims did not face this anti-religious policy when they landed at Plymouth Rock."
While HSLDA hoped for congressional action to prevent the Romeikes' deportation, a member of Congress who supported the German family's asylum cause appealed to the president.
"While I am deeply disappointed in the Supreme Court's decision, I call on President Obama to grant the Romeike family asylum," said Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R.-Ind., a homeschooling father, in a written release. "The President should reject the European belief that children belong to the state and stand instead with families suffering persecution for exercising the basic right to educate their children. Americans have always welcomed those who flee their homelands in pursuit of freedom and President Obama has an opportunity to honor that commitment."
The Romeikes appealed to the Supreme Court after the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati upheld in May another court's rejection of their asylum request. Immigration judge Lawrence Burman granted asylum to the Romeikes in 2010 on religious freedom grounds, but the Obama administration appealed his ruling to the Board of Immigration Appeals. The board struck down Burman's decision, and the Sixth Circuit Court upheld its decision.
In its opinion, a three-judge panel of the Sixth Circuit Court said the Romeikes did not sufficiently make the case they had a "well-founded fear of persecution" based on being homeschoolers. The judges said the German government has "not singled out the Romeikes in particular or homeschoolers in general for persecution."
HSLDA contended, however, the Sixth Circuit and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who refused to grant asylum to the Romeikes, had ignored important evidence, including Germany's acknowledgment a primary reason for prohibiting home education "is to suppress religious minorities."
After May's ruling in the Sixth Circuit, Stutzman and 26 other Republicans in the House of Representatives urged Holder to grant asylum to the Romeike family. In a letter to the attorney general, they affirmed the immigration judge's ruling, saying Burman found the Romeikes' case met the legal standard for asylum, which is a "well-founded fear of future persecution on account of membership in a particular social group."
Tom Strode is Baptist Press' Washington bureau chief. Baptist Press editor Art Toalston contributed to this article. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).