A family homeschooling safely in rural Tennessee may be forced to return to their native Germany, where the parents likely face huge fines and criminal penalties, and could lose custody of their five school-age children.
Uwe and Hannelore Romeike are looking to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to give them permanent refugee status. But Attorney General Eric Holder is disputing their case, arguing Germany's ban on homeschooling fails to violate the family's fundamental rights.
The Romeikes fled Germany in 2008 after authorities fined them thousands in euros and forcibly took their children because they homeschool. In 2010, a U.S. immigration judge granted the Romeikes political asylum—the first time this status was granted based on compulsory schooling laws. The judge found the family has legitimate fear of persecution in Germany, where a small group of Christian homeschooling families have already been jailed, fined, and stripped of their children.
But the Department of Homeland Security immediately disputed the judge's decision. Last May, the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) sided with the government. It may take up to a year for a circuit court ruling, according to the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), which is representing the Romeikes.
That gives the family another year to freely educate their children. At a German public school, the children were bullied for their Christian beliefs. The Romeikes found school textbooks filled with inappropriate content. Still, Uwe says, "We knew that homeschooling would not be an easy journey." The Romeikes came to the U.S. when "all other doors seemed to close."
In Tennessee, Uwe teaches piano while the children play basketball and take science classes at a local co-op. Uwe says the uncertainty they face now hardly compares to the fear of "waking up with the police at your front door, there to take your children … not knowing if you will ever get them back."
The Romeike's case has far-reaching implications: "Our own government is attempting to send [them] back," said HSLDA's Michael Farris. "Something important is being said about our own liberties as American homeschoolers."