Romeikes Have Many Friends

The Romeikes have made many local and far-away friends in the United States stemming from their 6 some years in Morristown, Tennessee.  The family lost their bid for political asylum in the United States. Oddly enough, the Department of Justice successful quest against Romeikes’ hope to live here  was circumvented by the another Obama administration’s Department of Homeland Security. The Immigration & Customs Enforcement agency gave the family an “indefinite deferred status” allowance and Uwe, Hannelore and their seven kids are here to stay.  Indefinitely.

Business Insider noted the Economist‘s article on the Romeike family’s stay in the United States and the friends they made in Morristown.

Lexington: The Home-School Conundrum

Civil disobedience does not come easily to Morristown, a conservative spot of almost 30,000 souls. Yet city fathers swore to endure jail time, if necessary, to shield Uwe Romeike, his wife Hannelore and their seven children, from federal agents with orders to expel them from Morristown, where they have lived since fleeing Baden-Württemberg in 2008.

Both parents are gifted musicians and Uwe is a pianist at the huge Morristown’s First Baptist Church.

Mr Romeike, a music teacher, works as the pianist at the First Baptist Church in Morristown, which attracts 1,300 worshippers on a Sunday and boasts its own TV station. The church hosts weekly gatherings for 60 home-schooled families, among them the Romeikes. The children meet friends, play sports and take classes (taught by parents) in everything from science to quilting.

The family has supporters in high places and other not-so-high places.

Some people come to Morristown “illegally”, says Dean Haun, senior pastor at First Baptist, but the Romeikes did everything by the rules. “They are not on welfare, they’re not asking for handouts. They’re hard-working.”

Tilman Goins, a Republican who represents Morristown in Tennessee’s House of Representatives, recently condemned Germany’s home-school laws as “promulgated under Adolf Hitler in 1938”. Mr Goins was being obtuse. If there is a link between Germany’s home-schooling policy and Nazism, it is that history helps explain German angst about fringe groups with passionate views that reject the liberal consensus.

Yujin Chun is the Cornell International Law Journal’s Associate on European Affairs and the Career Chair of the Briggs Society of International Law. She wrote a legal opinion on the Romeike vs Holder controversy.  Here’s some pieces of her article from the Cornell International Law Journal Online.
Courts Shall Not Rule on Homeschool Alone: Romeike v. Holder and the Intersection of Fundamental Rights and Asylum

Romeike v. Holder is more than a failed asylum case. Briefly, prior to Homeland Security’s unexplained decision to not deport the family, the case galvanized American citizens to aggressively defend an immigrant family’s right to stay in the United States.[16] The view is an interesting one—one that puts the Romeikes in a category somehow different from many other immigrants seeking legal status. “There are nearly 12 million illegal immigrants living in the United States. You’d think the Obama administration could find a place [for] eight immigrants who want to live here legally,” writes Todd Starnes of Fox News,[17] as if the other 12 million illegal immigrants reside illegally out of aversion to abiding the law. But what explains the leniency and compassion toward German citizens seeking to homeschool? It appears that in the fewer than six years that the Romeikes have been in the United States they have, in the eyes of their community, become “American.” Such a transformation shifted the focus away from immigration laws and to the rights that the U.S. Constitution gives to American parents. This article first examines parental rights in both America and Germany, then turns to the Sixth Circuit’s immigration-law based decision, and finally explores the return to rights present in the response of the Romeike family’s supporters.

III. Immigration: The Obama Administration and Asylum Prerequisites

Parents’ right to choose how to educate their children, however, is not the pivotal issue in Romeike. In the decision’s first paragraph, Judge Sutton acknowledges, “[h]ad the Romeikes lived in America at the time [of their children’s mandated school attendance], they would have had a lot of legal authority to work with in countering the prosecution.”[27] But alas, they were not. And, in the United States, this is not a case on whether parents have the right to homeschool their children. It is an immigration case.

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Overall, the issue of the case did not turn on whether Germany’s policy violates the U.S. Constitution or even whether the German law is a good one; the sole question was whether the Romeikes established the prerequisites of an asylum claim, which is well-founded fear of persecution on account of a protected ground. The general applicability of Germany’s education laws meant that there was no discriminatory targeting occurring—and thus no protected ground being infringed upon.[35]

The result—denial of asylum petition and certiorari—is not a surprising one. Characterizing the inability to homeschool one’s children as persecution that justifies asylum status seems far-fetched at best. What is surprising, then, is how Tennessee Christians—including their congressman—so fiercely came to the immigrant family’s defense.

IV. Christianity Making the Romeike Family “American”

It appears that the Romeike family’s reason for homeschooling has made the Christian members of their community see the family as undeserving of the asylum scrutiny. Where other, somehow undeserving immigrants must withstand harsh judicial inspection, the Romeikes conversely deserve the benefits and rights that Americans enjoy. Statements by Rep. Phil Roe, who represents the congressional district where the Romeike family lives, are telling:

I am furious about this. You’ve got law-abiding people who did everything right who simply want to home school their kids. . . . I don’t see this as a Democrat or Republican issue. It’s an issue of religious freedom. By golly, if we don’t stand for what, what do we stand for?[37]

For the Christian members of the Tennessee community vowing civil disobedience to stand by the Romeikes, the family’s religion has made them not foreign immigrants but essentially American, deserving not of the proper asylum prerequisites but of constitutional rights that parents enjoy in the United States. Religion has transformed an otherwise simple asylum denial into a critical matter of fundamental rights enshrined by the U.S. Constitution—at least for many observers of the case.

There are definitely some interesting reflections on the Romeike family’s asylum quest, their life in Morristown and their indefinite stay here in the United States.  I’m glad they’re able to live a homeschooling life here and it appears they’ve made the best of it in their community.

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