American conservatives cheer the deportation of people fleeing poverty and violence, but when a family of German Christians came to the US because they refused to send their kids to school, the right rediscovered compassion.
The Romeike family goes on the Glenn Beck show, which is not normally an immigrant-friendly place. Screenshot via YouTube
The key to getting asylum in the United States is to be white, socially conservative, and really into Jesus—or at least that’s the lesson imparted by the US government’s decision not to deport a family running away from Germany’s educational system. And conservatives—the same sort who complain about immigrants destroying our culture, insofar as we have one—couldn’t be happier.
Devout Christians Uwe and Hannelore Romeike came to the US in 2008 because they wanted to keep their kids out of school, for religious reasons. Although Germany allows children to attend faith-based schools, those schools must comply with German educational standards—and apparently none of them were devout enough for the Romeikes, who moved to Tennessee after being hit with thousands of dollars in fines by the German government for homeschooling their kids.
“Like the Pilgrims, they fled their homeland yearning for a place where they could be free,” wrote Todd Starnes, a bigot who appears on Fox News, in a recent article on the plight of the Romeikes that gives the unfortunate impression they’re here to spread disease, slaughter the natives, and steal their land. The family of nine’s case has been taken up by all the usual right-wing suspects, from Breitbart to TownHall to the Blaze, Glenn Beck’s bullshit "news" service. The family and its supporters say the German state has no right to indoctrinate their children and to dictate what they can and cannot learn; that right belongs to mom and dad.
The Romeikes’ escape from the tyranny of public education was facilitated by the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), which helped them fight to stay in America. At first, the family was granted asylum by a state court on the grounds that the Romeikes were fleeing “persecution,” but that ruling was soon overturned—a decision upheld by a federal court—after an appeal from the federal government, which conservatives have taken to mean that Barack Obama personally intervened, as he does in all judicial actions involving white Christians. Earlier this month, the Supreme Court refused to hear the family’s appeal, which left supporters fearing the worst: deportation. Of course, they would already have been shipped off had the family been from Mexico, whose citizens are regularly denied asylum and quickly deported even though they are fleeing poverty and drug-war violence instead of the teaching of evolution.
In 2012, the last year for which the Department of Justice has figures, 9,206 Mexican citizens requested asylum in the US, but only 126 had that request granted, meaning 99 percent of applications were rejected. Citizens of Honduras, which in the wake of a US-condoned military coup now enjoys the highest murder rate in the world, had their asylum applications rejected 93 percent of the time. Statistically, you’re better off requesting asylum if you’re German—though, obviously, very few Germans feel the need to escape to the US.
Despite these statistics—and even though Obama has deported 2 million people since taking office, more than any other president—the conservative narrative is that he’s waging a war on white people, especially the God-fearing variety who want to keep their children away from the liberal dogma found at public schools. All those asylum-seeking Latinos sent packing by America’s first president of color? Inconvenient at best and certainly not worthy of a media campaign, unless maybe they’re from Cuba and fled to Miami in search of a small business loan. Conservatives generally prefer their pilgrims as white as freshly bleached linen.
“Had this administration been waiting at Plymouth Rock, they would’ve told the pilgrims to go back home,” HSLDA chairman Michael Farris told Fox’s Starnes, a thought that is actually quite lovely. An America where genocidal fundamentalists were told to get the hell out and go back to the horrors of Western Europe? Sign me up for that alternate reality.
“I think this is part of the Obama administration’s overall campaign to crush religious freedom in this country,” said Farris. He meant the freedom of Christians, naturally, not any of the lesser religions that godless liberals seem to love. “I have little doubt that if this family had been of some other faith”—wink-wink, nudge-nudge—“that the decision [to grant asylum] never would have been appealed in the first place,” he said. “They would have let this family stay”—with they of course meaning Barack Hussein Obama and stay meaning institute sharia.
Perhaps it’s not fair to say the Romeikes only became a conservative cause célèbre because they are white Christians, though conservatives haven’t exactly earned the benefit of the doubt and do seem to be ignoring all those brown Catholics from Central and South America. Regardless, the family’s religious beliefs are supposed to be a very important factor in our determining whether or not they are worthy of Christian charity.
“Please, Mr. President, have mercy on this Christian family,” wrote Starnes. He went on to contrast the pasty white Romeikes with the “nearly 12 million illegal immigrants” who, unlike these good Germans, don’t “want to live here legally.” Because they actually prefer the constant fear of deportation, you know?
The funny thing is, for all the talk of its waging a war on Christianity and the white majority—God, if only—in the end the Obama administration listened to people like Starnes and chose to let the family stay, with the Department of Homeland Security ultimately giving them “indefinite deferred status,” meaning they can effectively stay here forever, even though they weren’t granted asylum. This very special treatment didn’t earn the White House any credit, though: “This is an incredible victory that can only be credited to our Almighty God,” said Farris in a statement proclaiming the good news.
And it was good news. The Romeikes should be able to live where they feel most welcome, and if that’s Tennessee and not Germany, they should be allowed to stay there. They should also probably have a right to homeschool their children—it can’t be that much different from sending them to school in rural Tennesee—but let’s not pretend that’s so much about liberty versus tyranny as much as it’s about determining who gets to control what ideas the Romeikes' children are taught, at least up until the moment they discover Google.
The real problem with this case is that the compassion these nine Germans were shown by the far right sure as hell ain’t shown to the millions of families in much greater need of a new home in America: people escaping generational poverty and terrifying cycles of violence that Uncle Sam often had a hand in creating. It would be nice if, say, a couple hours from now, conservatives could still remember what they said about Uwe and Hannelore Romeike when Omar and Emilia Rodriguez cross the border in search of a better life for their kids.
Charles Davis is a writer and producer in Los Angeles. His work has been published by outlets including Al Jazeera, the New Inquiry, and Salon.