Nearly 15 years ago, Uwe and Hannelore Romeike fled Germany in order to homeschool their children in the United States. Under Germany’s education laws, the Romeikes were subject to severe financial penalties for attempting to homeschool. On a few occasions, police came to their home and escorted their children to school. In 2009, they moved to the U.S. and petitioned the government for asylum.
They’ve lived here since, mainly in Morristown, Tennessee. Never formally granted asylum, they were granted indefinite deferred action status in 2014 by the Obama administration. They’ve since added two children, their two oldest have married U.S. citizens, and they have even welcomed a grandchild.
Last month, during a “routine check-in,” the Romeikes were told they had to return to Germany. According to Home School Legal Defense Association attorney Kevin Boden:
They were basically given four weeks to come back. They (were given) a report date in October. They (didn’t) know what (was) going to happen in that meeting. They (didn’t) know if they’re going to be forced to leave. They (didn’t) know if they’re going to be taken into custody.
Given how long the family has been in the United States and how unconcerned the Biden administration seems to be about illegal immigrants pouring across the Southern border, it’s difficult to make sense of why they would be so concerned about the Romeike family status now. After a significant amount of public pressure, the INS has given the family a one-year reprieve, but their story seems part of an increasing hostility to religious refugees on the part of the U.S. government.
According to a 2023 report from World Relief and Open Doors US, the number of religious refugees admitted to the U.S. has plummeted, though the number of Christians facing persecution around the world continues to climb. An estimated 360 million Christians live under threat of persecution and discrimination, an increase of 100 million in the last three years. Last year, the United States only resettled 25,465 refugees, excluding the Afghans and Ukrainians who entered the U.S. via a separate parole program. This number represents a dramatic reduction from pre-2017 levels when the U.S. resettled an average of over 80,000 people per year.
And, as the World Relief and Open Doors report outlines, the number of religious (including Christian) refugees from historically dangerous parts of the world have decreased even more sharply. In 2022, refugees from Eritrea, Iran, Myanmar, and Iraq were down “85 percent, 95 percent, 92 percent and 94 percent, respectively” compared to 2016 levels. Between 2016 and 2022, refugees from Burma (including most Rohingya) declined by 62%, total Christian arrivals by 70%, and Yezidis by 100%. “America,” the author concludes, “is no longer the safe haven for displaced persons that it once was.”
Though refugee resettlement in the U.S. slowed to a trickle during the COVID-19 pandemic, the trend goes back earlier. In 2019, I observed in a Breakpoint commentary that though the Trump administration had stalwartly defended religious liberty at home, it had shut down legal channels for religious—including Christian—refugees while trying to stop the crisis of illegal immigration.
Now, America faces a heightened crisis of illegal crossings due to the Biden administration’s open border policies, especially on the southern border. However, fixing that problem should not include closing off all options for religious asylum seekers. Especially since the administration promised to specifically increase the number of religious refugees but instead arranged for 472,000 Venezuelans to come work in the U.S.
The strange targeting of the Romeike family, along with an unaddressed crisis of green-card applications, which could see thousands of faith leaders in the U.S. sent home after years of residency, suggests that the religious aspect of these stories may be an outsized factor.
Admittedly, reversing this trend now seems impossible in light of the war between Israel and Hamas. None of the surrounding Muslim nations are opening their borders to those seeking to flee the imminent ground assault of Gaza. And large, angry, and violent immigrant populations are protesting in many Western cities in support of the atrocities committed against Israel. Though it is possible to secure our borders and to properly vet and assist refugees facing religious persecution, the system will need to be rebuilt around completely different assumptions.
The current system invites mistreatment and exploitation. Encouraging the lawlessness of some while abandoning others, especially many who belong to what Paul called “the household of faith,” only feeds a narrative that America is becoming a more hostile place for religion, especially Christianity. That narrative is supported by more than enough evidence already.
This Breakpoint was co-authored by Kasey Leander. To help us share Breakpoint with others, leave a review on your favorite podcast app. For more resources to live like a Christian in this cultural moment, go to breakpoint.org.
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