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Southern Baptist homeschooling family granted year-long delay of deportation back to Germany

Photo from HSLDA

MORRISTOWN, Tenn. (BP) – A homeschooling Tennessee family facing imminent deportation back to their home country of Germany was granted a year-long delay by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials last Wednesday (Oct. 11).

Uwe and Hannelore Romeike originally moved their family to the United States 15 years ago in order to homeschool their children, as doing so is illegal in Germany. After years of legal battles, the Romeikes, who live in Morristown and are members of First Baptist Church of Morristown, were granted “indefinite deferred action status” by the U.S. government in 2014.

The family had since been legally operating under this designation, until they were told they had four weeks to secure passports for deportation back to Germany during a routine check-in at their local ICE office in early September. According to the family’s legal counsel, the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), this change in plans came with no warning or apparent explanation.

Supporters and advocates of the Romeikes are now rejoicing at the decision reversal, made official during a meeting in Knoxville on Wednesday. Among the family’s supporters is the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), which has been advocating for them since the beginning.

“For over 10 years, the ERLC has advocated for the Romeike family to find permanent refuge in the United States,” said Hannah Daniel, who serves as the ERLC’s policy manager.

“Just two weeks ago, we met with the White House to urge the administration to grant asylum or reinstate deferred action for this family.” 

During this private meeting with White House officials, ERLC staff raised the case of the Romeikes, emphasizing the important role the United States can play in being a safe haven for those fleeing religious persecution.

ERLC staff asked for information about why this was happening to the family, and asked that the family be granted either asylum or deferred status.

“The Romeike family fled to the United States in order to live out their religious beliefs through homeschooling their children,” Daniel said. “We are grateful that the administration has rightly granted temporary reprieve, but ultimately, this family — like so many others — continues to live in limbo without a clear pathway to permanency.”

The Romeikes began homeschooling their children in Germany in 2006, but were subjected to heavy fines that exceeded the family’s income.

According to the HSLDA, the family desired to homeschool their children because of their conviction that they are responsible for their children’s education, and over a growing concern about the content taught in German public schools, specifically “anti-Christian and sexual elements.”

They fled to the United States in 2008 and applied for asylum, which they were initially granted in 2010 by an immigration judge.

In 2012, the U.S. Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) overturned their asylum, beginning a lengthy back-and-forth legal battle which would eventually end with the family being granted the indefinite deferred action status.

This allowed the family to legally live in the country, work, own property, obtain drivers’ licenses and pay taxes.

Since moving to the U.S., Uwe and Hannelore had two more children (who are U.S. citizens by birth), making a total of seven. Two of their adult children are now married to U.S. citizens, and they have a newborn grandchild.

Uwe, the father of the family, works at Carson-Newman University (affiliated with the Tennessee Baptist Convention) as a staff accompanist and is a deacon and church pianist at First Baptist Church of Morristown.

Uwe told Knoxville news station WBIR-TV America provides his family a much better opportunity for life and education than Germany. 

“Our oldest children were in school in the German public schools, and their personality literally changed,” Romeike said. “We wanted to help them to grow up in what they believed in, and what we believe in and not get basically indoctrinated with something we don’t want.” 

“They work here. Everything is here in America,” Romeike said. “We don’t have any place to live there. I don’t have any work to provide for my family over there.” 

Upon last month’s surprising news that they were now to begin preparing for deportation, thousands came to the support and defense of the family.

A petition launched by the HSLDA asking the Biden administration to reinstate the Romeikes’ deferred statues has more than 115,000 signatures to date.

The HSLDA continues to advocate that either the Biden administration grant the family permanent residency or Congress pass a private bill, introduced in early September by Tennessee representative Diana Harshbarger, which would provide permanent relief for the family.

“This is our first victory,” said Kevin Boden, attorney with the HSLDA. “HSLDA is pleased that ICE has granted a one-year stay. The Romeike family has been given a reprieve, and we will continue to work on their behalf for a permanent solution.”