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Persecuted for homeschooling

The deportation of the law-abiding Romeike family is an outrage

Uwe and Hannelore Romeike and their family The Romeike family

Persecuted for homeschooling
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During the month of August, 232,972 illegal migrants were caught by Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) on the southern border, an average of 7,500 per day. The Biden administration had in place a policy that allowed these people to be released into the United States with as little as a promise of a future appointment for future processing, with no guarantee they would keep the appointment. But amid this flood, worry not, CBP is on the job to make sure a law-abiding German homeschooling family claiming religious persecution is kicked out of our country.

Uwe and Hannelore Romeike are deeply Christian people, and they wanted to raise their five children in line with their religious values, which for them means homeschooling. They fear that the state-sponsored schools of their native land would shape their children in line with the state’s values, which are not their values. They would have a constitutional right to homeschool in America, as the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized for a century. But they lived in Germany, where a truancy law makes it mandatory for students to attend state-run or -approved schools. Indeed, local government literally sends the police to physically haul children out of their homes and into their designated public schools. That’s because, in Germany, homeschooling is illegal. So the Romeikes fled to the world’s brightest beacon of religious liberty, a land that promises a home for immigrants “yearning to breathe free.”

Upon arrival in the United States in 2008, the Romeike family filed for asylum from persecution: Their native land made it a crime to raise their children in accordance with their religious beliefs. They made all their immigration appointments and worked diligently through the immigration process. An initial immigration judge approved their application, but the Obama administration’s Department of Justice then appealed that approval to a review board, which reversed and ordered them expelled. The Romeike family then appealed the reversal, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit sided with the government against them and their lawyers from the Home School Legal Defense Association. Now, after 15 years of living here lawfully, they face deportation. We let illegal immigrants flood across the southern border, but this law-abiding piano teacher and his family must go, apparently.

The irony is that if the Romeike family had chosen to live here illegally, they could have stayed.

The 6th Circuit reasoned in its opinion that “[t]here is a difference between the persecution of a discrete group and the prosecution of those who violate a generally applicable law.” The Romeikes were not targeted by a law that said, “No Christians are allowed in Germany.” The truancy law said nothing about their faith whatsoever, good or bad.

An American citizen with a First Amendment challenge to a state law in another context would actually face the same problem. In 1990, a case reached the U.S. Supreme Court involving several Native Americans who sought to use peyote in their religious practice. They were disqualified from receiving unemployment compensation because of a neutral and generally applicable law requiring recipients to pass a drug test. The drug test didn’t target Native Americans who used peyote in their rituals—it covered anybody who failed a drug test for any reason. The Supreme Court upheld their disqualification, saying that neutral and generally applicable laws can be enforced against people of faith even if they create burdens on religious practices. That’s different from how we think about other constitutional rights, where judges ask whether the law is justified by a compelling government interest like health or safety in order to overcome a person’s presumption of liberty.

The irony in all this is that if the Romeike family had chosen to live here illegally, they could have stayed. They came on a visa waiver and applied for asylum—in other words, they entered the United States legally. They could have found work in the cash economy, moved to one of 19 states that allow illegal migrants to get a driver’s license, and their children could have received in-state tuition at public universities in 24 states. They could have chosen a state that offers taxpayer-provided subsidies for health insurance. Perhaps the children even qualify as “dreamers” under DACA, the Obama-era program of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which would open up many more such programs and scholarships. The Biden administration and blue states open their doors for illegal immigrants, while at the same time DOJ is readying to deport this red-state immigrant family living peacefully in Tennessee.

My point is simple: We have a real immigration crisis on our southern border. This is the wrong priority for CBP. It’s outrageous that in all of the immigration disarray our government provokes, a law-abiding family such as the Romeike family would be forced to leave a country that not only historically champions religious liberty but also enables families like the Romeikes to embody the very best of what immigration can foster. Asylum seekers like the Romeikes come in the best traditions of American history, seeking hope and freedom in a land that cherishes religious liberty. It would be an easy act of grace and goodwill to stop these deportation proceedings, and an example to Congress and the courts to start rethinking the standards of review for asylum seekers when neutral laws burden the free exercise of faith.

Daniel R. Suhr

Daniel R. Suhr is an attorney who fights for freedom in courts across America. He has worked as a senior adviser for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, as a law clerk for Judge Diane Sykes of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, and at the national headquarters of the Federalist Society. He is a member of Christ Church Mequon. He is an Eagle Scout, and he loves spending time with his wife Anna and their two sons, Will and Graham, at their home near Milwaukee.

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