Court Report

Why Keeping the Romeikes in America is About Much More than Immigration

Dave Dentel

Newsletter Editor/Staff Writer

For the past decade and a half, the Romeike family’s otherwise tranquil sojourn in the Tennessee foothills has been marred by an unnerving ritual.

Each year, on behalf of themselves and their children, Uwe and Hannelore Romeike have checked in with immigration authorities to learn whether they would be permitted to remain in the United States—the country they fled to in 2008 for the sake of conscience and faith.

Their legal status has never been entirely secure. The family’s original request for asylum was granted in 2010, then overturned by immigration officials. Five years of legal battles followed, and the outcome led to officials indefinitely deferring action on their deportation. However, the Romeikes remain under court orders to leave the country and have to report annually to their local Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office in Tennessee.

As time passed, however, it was easy to believe these annual visits had become mere formalities. Like typical American homeschool parents, Uwe and Hannelore settled into a routine and watched their family expand and their children grow, learn, fall in love, marry, and launch careers.

Then the Romeikes were suddenly reminded that, despite the lives they’d built and the ties they’d forged, their legal right to remain in the place they now call home rests on the whim of bureaucrats. When they reported to ICE in September 2023 for their annual check-in, they were ordered to leave the country—for no apparent reason. Officials gave them one month to secure their passports and report back to ICE to begin self-deportation to Germany.

“It was just shocking,” Uwe said of his family’s situation. “After 15 years living with friends and extended family here, we feel like Americans. We don’t feel we should go back to Germany because there’s nothing for us there.”

Thankfully, within weeks their situation changed for the better. In response to an effort championed by Home School Legal Defense Association—which has advocated for the Romeike family since their original bid for asylum—ICE granted them a one-year reprieve.

Still, until a pathway to permanent residency or citizenship can be secured, the family remains in a precarious situation. What’s more, their plight will continue to stand as a reminder that, even in 21st-century democracies, individuals who adhere to the principles of their faith over the dictates of the state risk being treated as troublemakers or turned into outcasts.

No going back

Apart from wishing to avoid the upheaval entailed by an intercontinental move, the Romeikes have another reason for not wanting to return to Germany: the law regarding homeschooling there hasn’t changed.

Home education is still banned in Germany. And we are aware of a number of families, who have attempted or are attempting to homeschool, being subjected to harsh treatment at the hands of authorities who insist that education should promote conformity and social unity.

“If you want to homeschool the way we do in the United States, it’s not legal,” explained Kevin Boden, staff attorney and director of HSLDA International.

The German government relies on the influence of public education to prevent the rise of concepts, organizations, and sub-cultures that officials deem a threat to the country’s democracy. The thought is that young people who are not exposed to foundational ideas about German culture—and who never interact with other students from different backgrounds—risk becoming isolated and radicalized.

These marginalized individuals are often said to be forming “parallel societies.” One example of how concern over this issue affects policy in Germany occurred in 2015, when Chancellor Angela Merkel determined that her government might accept fewer foreign refugees because those who had already arrived were failing to integrate. She warned that this trend was not creating the harmonious blend touted by advocates of diversity, but was instead producing disparate, partisan entities.

“Multiculturalism leads to parallel societies,” Merkel claimed, “and therefore remains a sham.”[1]

German officials have used similar terms in denouncing homeschooling. As we noted in a 2019 Court Report article recounting the persecution of another German homeschooling family, the Wunderlichs: “The continuing argument that homeschooling creates parallel societies and that children can only learn to be tolerant citizens by going to state schools is a pernicious fantasy in the minds of European elites. This is the real reason homeschooling continues to be banned—elitist fears of immigrant parallel societies, especially in Germany, have led them to apply those same fears to homeschooling.”[2]

This has borne out in German policy over the years. For example, in 2003 the German Constitutional Court stated that “encroachments into basic constitutional rights [of religious homeschoolers] is reasonable….”[3] Ultimately, by compelling all students to participate in the same highly regulated educational system, German officials hope to engender uniformity in ideas and attitudes. And to a certain extent, they succeed.

Uwe and Hannelore said their oldest children had only been attending public school in Germany a short time when their personalities and characters began to change in ways that conflicted with the Christian values they were taught at home.

These differences hinged on more than mere preferences.

“It was a battle for the soul of our children,” said Hannelore. “When we found out more about what was taught in the public school curriculum, we knew we’d found the reason why our children had changed so much. It was like they were being programmed in a way that we, as Christians living according to a biblical worldview, don’t agree with.”

At that point choosing to homeschool became “a matter of having a good conscience before God,” she added.

The price of dissent

The Romeikes soon suffered repercussions for their decision. Authorities imposed exorbitant fines and threatened Uwe and Hannelore with jail time. Once in 2006, German police entered the family’s home and forced the children to attend public school for part of a day.

When they realized they could lose custody of their children, Uwe and Hannelore determined the time had come for drastic measures. With the assistance of HSLDA, the family moved to the US in 2008 and applied for asylum on the grounds that they had been persecuted for homeschooling.

the Romeikes at the airport

The Romeikes left their home in Germany in 2008 and flew to the United States to seek asylum.

In 2010, an immigration judge granted them asylum. However, the Board of Immigration Appeals overturned this ruling in 2013, agreeing with the Obama administration that Germany’s treatment of the family counted as reasonable enforcement of legitimate laws. The Sixth Circuit Court agreed.

This decision conflicted with principles regarding the role of parents in education that were previously upheld in numerous landmark cases. As the US Supreme Court has often stated, parents have an inherent right to direct the upbringing of their children. This view necessarily includes protection for the choice to homeschool.

In the 1979 case Parham v J.R., Chief Justice Warren Burger wrote: “The law’s concept of the family rests on a presumption that parents possess what a child lacks in maturity, experience, and capacity for judgment required for making life’s difficult decisions. More important, historically it has recognized that natural bonds of affection lead parents to act in the best interest of their children.”[4]

Striking down Oregon’s ban on private schools in the 1925 case Pierce v Society of Sisters, the court declared: “The child is not the mere creature of the state; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.”[5]

As HSLDA Board Chairman Michael Farris commented following the Sixth Circuit’s decision;

Our government does not understand that families like the Romeikes have two goals when they choose homeschooling. They want to teach their children certain things, and they want to avoid having their children taught certain things. Sending their children to school would violate this second goal.[6]

HSLDA appealed to the US Supreme Court, which declined to review the case in 2014, leaving the family under an order to be removed from the country. However, immigration officials assured the Romeikes that action against them would be deferred indefinitely.

Permitted to obtain drivers’ licenses, work, rent, own property, and pay taxes, the Romeikes continued to homeschool and engage their community in eastern Tennessee. Uwe opened a private music studio, played piano at church, and was hired as a staff accompanist at Carson-Newman University.

the Romeikes at their table

In the US, the Romeikes were free to pursue home education while HSLDA attorneys represented their case before the courts.

As the years passed, they added two more children to their family, who both gained American citizenship by virtue of being born in the US. The two oldest children, Lydia and Daniel, married American citizens, and Lydia just had the Romeikes’ first grandchild.

Then they were told to leave.

Exposing injustice

As part of our mission to highlight the unjust treatment of homeschoolers in Germany and other nations where home education is severely restricted, HSLDA has continued to assist the Romeikes while they labor to build a lasting home in the United States.

When the deportation order came in September, we rallied to help the family.

The challenge arose in determining the best path forward. Much of the difficulty has to do with the rigid and byzantine nature of US immigration law.

“The Romeikes have been complying with the law and doing everything they’re supposed to be doing,” explained Joel Grewe, executive director of HSLDA Action. “But though there are several ways individuals can apply to become immigrants to the US, once you start down a certain track it’s nearly impossible to switch to a different one.”

With the Romeikes facing deportation in a matter of weeks, HSLDA focused on gaining time to work toward a lasting solution—a way to obtain permanent legal residency for the family.

First, we needed to delay the deportation order. The most direct path toward achieving this goal was to persuade White House officials to order ICE, which operates as part of the federal government’s executive branch, to act favorably toward the Romeikes. We posted an online petition asking the Biden Administration to reinstate the Romeikes’ deferred status, and 111,096 supporters signed the document within four weeks.

Grewe, Boden, HSLDA Senior Counsel Will Estrada, and others also spent several days in September and October meeting with lawmakers on Capitol Hill. They learned that US Rep. Diana Harshbarger, who represents the congressional district where the Romeikes live, had introduced a private immigration bill on behalf of the family.

H.R. 5423 would provide the Romeikes permanent residency status with a possible pathway to citizenship. To take effect, it must be passed by the House and Senate, and then be signed by President Biden. Three similar bills granting relief to individuals facing deportation were enacted by Congress and signed by the president in 2022.[7] HSLDA Action is also asking several members of the US Senate to introduce a parallel version of the bill that would provide permanent residency for the Romeikes.

To gain the time necessary for the legislative process to work, Boden, Grewe and Estrada also assisted Harshbarger and her colleagues in sending a letter to ICE asking the agency to delay the Romeikes’ deportation order. Grewe said this effort was aided by the fact that many of the legislators and staff members we contacted are friends of HSLDA.

For instance, we approached US Rep. Daniel Webster of Florida, a homeschool dad who HSLDA Action endorsed for office four times. Generation Joshua, HSLDA Action’s youth civics program, also sent volunteers to assist with his campaign on multiple occasions. Therefore, when he saw that the Romeikes needed help, “his staff took this very personally,” Grewe recalled.

A similar exchange occurred when Grewe approached Harshbarger’s office and encountered a staff member who had developed an interest in government by participating in Generation Joshua. The GenJ alumnus ushered Grewe to the deputy chief of staff, who expressed relief at discovering an ally.

“Did I hear you are here to help the Romeikes?” she asked. 

“When I said yes, she almost broke down in tears,” Grewe recounted. “She told me: ‘I didn’t think anyone cared. I thought this was a lost cause.’”

A few days later, our combined efforts resulted in 32 representatives, including US Rep. Mike Johnson, the newly elected Speaker of the House, signing a letter on behalf of the Romeikes and sending it to ICE. Immigration officials complied by granting the family a year’s reprieve.

Getting the word out

Grewe said it was gratifying to see how HSLDA’s 40 years of advocacy and engagement laid the groundwork for achieving a breakthrough so quickly.

“There was no one dramatic moment,” Grewe recalled. “There were just lots of small things that really helped us gain access and get our message through to the people who can make a difference. It’s amazing how our work has generated friends and allies who can lend a hand when we need it. Every time I turned around on Capitol Hill, I met someone else who could help us get to the next step.”

The campaign to help the Romeikes also benefited from substantial media coverage. Uwe and Hannelore were invited to share their personal stories, while Boden provided insight regarding international laws targeting homeschooling.

Boden assured viewers of Fox News, for example, that the Romeikes faced genuine hardships should they be forced to return to Germany.

“I’ve talked to families who are afraid in Germany,” he said. “And the fight there, the persecution there, is very real today, as it was 15 years ago,” he told the television network.[8]

We estimate that by mid-October HSLDA’s efforts on behalf of the family were mentioned in 560 different media entities. These included print publications such as Christianity Today, The Washington Times, and National Review, plus radio talk shows and multiple affiliates of national television networks.

“I definitely think all the media exposure helped the Romeikes’ case,” Boden said. He added that he considered it especially effective when the Romeikes were able to explain that they homeschool in order to remain true to their faith and deeply held principles. “It was really great when they had the opportunity to tell about who they are and what kind of people they are.”

Neighbors and friends

The Romeikes’ efforts to bond with their community were evident in another source of support: the homeschool families in Tennessee who were among the most active in contacting their congressional representatives and asking them to intervene.

“Tennessee homeschoolers welcomed this family and wrapped their arms around them,” Grewe said.

Over the years the Romeikes have established deep roots in the Volunteer State, especially in the way they’ve prepared their children to take their place in society. A friend at church helped Daniel develop his interest in aviation—he is now a pilot and airplane mechanic. Christian launched his own landscaping business, and Joshua enjoys beekeeping, raising chickens, and gardening at the family homestead.

Three of the Romeike children

Some of the Romeike children have been born in the US and others have married US citizens. They wish to stay here, united as a family.

There have been challenges along the way. Each member of the family who drives has to renew their license every year, a process contingent upon holding valid work permits. Hannelore said that one year, a delay in receiving new work permits meant spending several weeks relying on others for transportation. In addition, some of the Romeike children have had to forgo opportunities for college and vocational training because of complications related to their immigration status.

However, the Romeikes declared these difficulties would pale in comparison to the trauma inflicted by deportation. If enforced, the removal order would fracture not one, but three families. Two of the Romeike children, Daniel and Lydia, are married to American citizens. If deported, Daniel could be torn from his wife, and Lydia from her husband and infant. Uwe and Hannelore would have to decide what to do with their two youngest, who have every right to remain in the US but are not yet old enough to invoke this prerogative.

Despite all this, Uwe’s faith remains unshaken.

“God is still in control and we trust Him to open a way for us,” he said.

‘Real solutions’

HSLDA and HSLDA Action continue to rally members and allies in asking Congress to make sure a forced return to Germany never happens.

As much as we are focused on safeguarding the liberty and welfare of the Romeikes, we recognize that the battle for a single family reflects a struggle over something more momentous and profound. The view that the state’s purposes in education take precedence over the wishes of parents is not unique to Germany, and has advocates on our own shores.

“Every day we hear new reports that education officials would intrude into the relationship between parent and child in new and disturbing ways,” HSLDA President Jim Mason said.

Given this reality, Mason said we must be prepared to defend not just the right to homeschool, but the right of parents to convey the principles and values they cherish most.

“Homeschooling has always been about training children in the ways of faith, about character formation, virtue, and service,” Mason added. “Because we at HSLDA believe that raising, nurturing, and educating children falls under the laws of nature and nature’s God, we remain committed to offering real solutions to homeschool families of every tribe and tongue as they endure through troubled times.”



Dave Dentel

Newsletter Editor/Staff Writer

Dave Dentel writes and edits content for HSLDA’s website. He especially enjoys getting to interview bright, articulate homeschooled students.