Nanny State Lessons From A German Homeschooling Family

Vicki Alger Research Fellow, Independent Institute
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The Obama Administration has stepped up deportations, and one recent attempt may strike Americans as chilling. Uwe and Hannelore Romeike and their seven children were on track to be deported not for illegal entry, gunrunning or drug trafficking. No, it was for homeschooling.

Homeschooling is legal in all 50 states but has been illegal in Germany for nearly a century. The Romeikes, German nationals, opted to school their children at home for educational and religious reasons. Faced with an imminent threat of losing custody of their children, in addition to jail time and fines, Uwe and Hannelore fled to Tennessee in 2008 with their children and sought legal asylum, which they were granted in 2010 by U.S. Immigration Judge Lawrence Burman.

That should have ended the matter, but apparently granting a homeschooling family asylum in the United States constitutes a threat of the highest order, at least according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which challenged the Romeikes’ asylum ruling.

Recall, ICE is an entity that claims its Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) directorate is “critical” and is:

…responsible for investigating a wide range of domestic and international activities arising from the illegal movement of people and goods into, within and out of the United States. HSI investigates immigration crime, human rights violations and human smuggling, smuggling of narcotics, weapons and other types of contraband, financial crimes, cybercrime and export enforcement issues. ICE special agents conduct investigations aimed at protecting critical infrastructure industries that are vulnerable to sabotage, attack or exploitation.

Apparently, ICE believes when homeschoolers are detected we should dial our terror-alert color wheel all the way up to red — and head straight for the Board of Immigration Appeals, which revoked the Romeikes’ asylum in 2012 on the basis that having your children taken away by the state for educating them at home isn’t a serious threat.

But clearly homeschooling is a big threat to the Obama administration. Last March the Home School Legal Defense Fund (HSLDF), the organization defending the Romeikes, created a White House petition asking President Obama to protect the family’s asylum. Obama declined to respond, but his Department of Justice sure went on the offensive.

In its June 26, 2013, brief to the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, Obama’s DOJ essentially argued that the German government is right to take children away from their parents and force them into government schools because “teaching tolerance to children of all backgrounds helps to develop the ability to interact as a fully functioning citizen of Germany.”

So according to the Obama administration, intolerant governments somehow foster toleration among schoolchildren. The Romeikes lost their 2013 asylum appeal, and last month the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear their case. Just one day later, the Department of Homeland Security suddenly reversed its opposition and informed the Romeikes they could remain in the United States indefinitely.

The DHS’ change of heart is welcome news for the Romeikes. For the nation, this family’s saga serves as refresher course on the true origins of our fundamental rights.

We are endowed by our Creator — not government — with certain unalienable rights, including the right of parents to educate their children as they see fit. An administration that would deport a family for doing just that should leave all Americans unsettled.

Vicki E. Alger, Ph.D., is a research fellow at the Independent Institute in Oakland, California, with a forthcoming book on the history of the U.S. Department of Education. She is also Senior Fellow and Women for School Choice Project Director at the Independent Women’s Forum in Washington, D.C.