Why Did Deportation Case of German Homeschooling Family Get Santorum’s Attention and Make ABC News?

Apr 5, 2013
11:11 PM

I will be honest with you: I did a major double-take when the Facebook page of Rick Santorum posted the following plea this afternoon:


Yes, the same Rick Santorum who said this at a Republican presidential debate:

Q: [to Santorum]:We heard from Gov. Romney, that self-deportation, or illegal immigrants leaving the country voluntarily, is a possible solution.

SANTORUM: I actually agree with Governor Romney. The bottom line is that we need to enforce the laws in this country. We are a country of laws. My grandfather came to this country because he wanted to come to a country that respected him. And a country that respects you is a country that lives by the laws that they have. And the first act when they come to this country, is to disobey a law, it’s not a particularly welcome way to enter this country. We have to have a country that not only do you respect the law when you come here, but you respect the law when you stay here. And people who have come to this country illegally have broken the law repeatedly. If you’re here, unless you’re here on a trust fund, you’ve been working illegally.

Source: CNN 2012 GOP primary debate on the eve of Florida primary , Jan 26, 2012

Santorum’s Facebook post led to a link from a national homeschooling association that is petitioning the White House to save the Romeike family from deportation. There is also a plea from an executive for Focus on the Family:

Focus on the Family Executive: Homeschool Asylum Case “Critical”
Thursday, April 4, 2013

Focus on the Family spokesman and Truth Project founder Dr. Del Tackett yesterday declared his support for HSLDA’s efforts to defend the Romeike family. Tackett believes that the U.S. government is siding with the restrictive homeschooling laws in Germany and that this could have serious implications for American homeschoolers.

“[The U.S. government] doesn’t believe that parents have a right to educate their children,” Tackett said. “It is more in line with the National Education Association that homeschooling shouldn’t be allowed. It believes that the government can best educate ‘America’s children.’ It doesn’t want another worldview taught in this country. It wants America’s children to have one worldview and one worldview only.”

In 2008, the Romeikes fled their home in Germany after facing fines and jail time and came to the U.S. seeking asylum, but now, the Obama Administration is opposing their quest for asylum by saying homeschooling is too vague and amorphous to be protected under asylum law. Their case is now set to be argued in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals on April 23 by HSLDA Chairman Mike Farris.

In addition to representing the family in court, HSLDA has also launched a petition on WhiteHouse.gov calling on the Obama Administration “grant full and permanent legal status to Uwe and Hannelore Romeike and their children.”

Now, when I saw the word “asylum,” I thought that the Romeikes were fleeing from serious political and religious persecution in Germany. Were they lives and beliefs being threatened? Then I read the letter again. I also checked out an ABC News story that ran on March 31:

A German family that fled to the United States in 2008 to be free to homeschool their children is fighting deportation after a decision granting them asylum was overturned.

Uwe and Hannelore Romeike, devout Christians from the southwest of Germany who now have six children, initially took their three oldest children out of school in their native country in 2006. Shortly after, the German government started fining the family and threatening them with legal action.

Home schooling has been illegal in Germany since 1918, when school attendance was made compulsory, and parents who choose to homeschool anyway face financial penalties and legal consequences, including the potential loss of custody of their children.

To escape such legal action, the family fled to the United States in 2008 and was granted political asylum in 2010, eventually making their home in Tennessee. U.S. law states that individuals can qualify for asylum if they can prove they are being persecuted because of their religion or because they are members of a particular “social group.”

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement challenged the decision to grant the Romeikes asylum to the Board of Immigration Appeals in 2012, claiming that Germany’s stringent policy against homeschooling did not constitute persecution.

The Romeikes were doing what they believed is right, as any parent would. They were doing this for their children, and they would be willing to break the law and risk the consequences of entering a country illegally to give them the freedom to teach and raise their children they way that they want to.

It is an admirable and inspiring narrative, one that plays every day in this country. Yet the Romeikes make ABC News. What about these names: Montaño, Arreola, Arma, and so many others who aren’t named Romeike? Where were the major news cameras during those cases? Where was Rick Santorum? Or all those people who keep saying “illegal is illegal,” calling those who enter this country illegally “criminals,” but are now signing a “Don’t Deport the Romeikes” White House petition? Why the outrage now?

CREDIT: Hispanically Speaking News

CREDIT: Hispanically Speaking News

The Romeikes are not threatening anyone, there are yet another low-priority case that has been tossed into the crucible of deportation proceedings. Their case speaks to how broken our immigration system truly is. Yet does anyone else see the irony that the people supporting the Romeikes have no problem asking the White House to ask for “permanent and legal status,” but are ready to send those who don’t come from Germany back home? You know, the “criminals” who crossed border “illegally”, instead of fleeing to the United States? (Did you notice that the ABC News piece doesn’t even mention the word “illegal” in this specific case or that it doesn’t even say that the Romeikes committed an “illegal act?” They just “fled.” I wonder why.) When one of the Latino Rebels admins addressed this very same double standard on Twitter tonight, a few of the profiles who were telling the Rebels earlier today that we supported amnesty for the “illegals,” had to pause for a second. You want to deport the Romeikes, too? The Twitter-jerk reaction wasn’t as swift.

The Romeike case is just one of thousands of similar stories of real people with real faces. People like Rody Alvarado Peña:

[She] came to the United States from Guatemala in 1995 after suffering vicious abuse at the hands of her husband for more than a decade. At age 16, Alvarado Peña had married a career soldier who raped and beat her, broke mirrors over her head, caused her to miscarry, and beat her unconsciousness. Divorce was impossible without her abusive husband’s consent, and with no shelters or other supports available, Alvarado Peña fled to the United States. She was granted asylum in 1996, but in the years since immigration courts have made conflicting rulings that left her in limbo.

Or these undocumented individuals from Mexico that CNN reported about in 2011:

The man was a Mexican immigrant who had been living in the United States illegally for several years. He was also deaf.

He abandoned Mexico to flee what he called persecution. He said he was socially ostracized, targeted by police. The abuse was too much to bear.

So now he was in California, and had already been ripped off once as he tried to seek asylum in the United States.

“He just stole my heart,” Bajramovic said of the immigrant.

It only took that initial short conversation to realize that “the situation in Mexico is very severe. I realized that there was persecution.”

Bajramovic took his case.

Then the next week, there were more phone calls to her office from deaf immigrants who had entered the country illegally looking for asylum.

As of this week, Bajramovic has had 30 deaf immigrants complete asylum interviews with the pertinent authorities, and has another 30 such clients awaiting their turn. They come from several countries, though the majority are from Mexico.

According to Bajramovic, these are the first petitions for asylum by deaf people on the grounds that they are persecuted for their disability. No rulings have been made in any of the novel cases, but critics say that they represent a perversion of the original intent of asylum law. While these types of cases are new, immigrants have long tested the boundaries of what merits persecution for the purposes of remaining legally in the United States.

So these are the “illegal invaders” the nativists fear?

Maybe, just maybe, the Romeike case will help to change a few people’s perceptions about the myths surrounding the undocumented. Maybe Santorum will start posting other pictures of other families who are facing deporting right now. Ok, I seriously doubt that, since it is clear to me that certain immigration narratives will never play well in certain circles, even when those circles decided to look away from their own anti-immigrant rhetoric towards those undocumented they selectively chose to exhibit compassionate for. Imagine if we did this for every undocumented family out there, those just like the Romeikes, who are just trying to do the best for their families, even if it means breaking an unjust law. Then change would certainly occur.

PS to Senator Santorum: whenever you need more pictures of families facing the tragedy of deportation every day, just like the Romeikes, let me know and I will send you them to you? A move like that would get my attention. In the meantime, stay hypocritical.


Julio (Julito) Ricardo Varela (@julito77 on Twitter) founded LatinoRebels.com (part of Latino Rebels, LLC) in May, 2011 and proceeded to open it up to about 20 like-minded Rebeldes. His personal blog, juliorvarela.com, has been active since 2008 and is widely read in Puerto Rico and beyond. He pens columns on LR regularly. In the last 12 months, Julito represented the Rebeldes on CBS’ Face the NationNPR,  UnivisionForbesand The New York Times.