(CP) A German family that fled to the United States over 15 years ago after being fined thousands for homeschooling their children may be deported within the next few weeks, the advocacy group representing them says.
The Home School Legal Defense Association says the devout Christian Romeikes, who came to the United States in 2008 on visas and lives in Tennessee, were told by their local Immigration and Customs Enforcement office on Sept. 6 that they have four weeks to leave the country.
The Romeike family garnered national headlines when they requested asylum status because they wanted to homeschool their children for religious reasons. Homeschooling is banned in Germany under nearly all circumstances, and any parents who refuse to send their children to school can face fines, imprisonment or even lose custody of their children.
The decision to homeschool came from what HSLDA calls a "growing concern that the content of the German public school's curriculum — particularly anti-Christian and sexual elements — threatened to harm their children."
Initially, the U.S. federal government agreed not to deport the family. Although the Department of Homeland Security granted the Romeikes asylum, officials overturned the decision, and the family was granted indefinite deferred action status in 2014 after years of legal battles, according to the HSLDA.
Over the last decade, the family has regularly reported to their local ICE office and has been allowed to work and homeschool their children.
ICE's decision to deport the family reportedly was announced during a routine check-in and came as a surprise to the couple and their seven children, two of whom are now adults and married.
"The Romeike family should be able to stay in the United States and home educate their children," said HSLDA President Jim Mason in a statement.
"America is a land of freedom and opportunity, and there are few freedoms or opportunities more important than the ability of parents to safely direct the education of their own children, without fear of punishment or persecution."
The father, Uwe Romeike, said in an interview with the Knoxville-based WBIR News that being forced to move back to Germany would be disastrous.
"[My family members] work here. Everything is here in America," said Romeike. "We don't have any place to live there. I don't have any work to provide for my family over there."
In 2008, the Romeike family immigrated to the United States after experiencing harassment from the German government over their decision to homeschool their children.
The Romeikes faced years of legal battles in the U.S. as immigration officials argued that they did not meet the parameters for receiving asylum.
In May 2013, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit unanimously ruled against the Romeike family, arguing that they were not being persecuted for their beliefs.
"Congress might have written the immigration laws to grant a safe haven to people living elsewhere in the world who face government strictures that the United States Constitution prohibits. But it did not," read the panel opinion, in part.
"There is a difference between the persecution of a discrete group and the prosecution of those who violate a generally applicable law. As the Board of Immigration Appeals permissibly found, the German authorities have not singled out the Romeikes in particular or homeschoolers in general for persecution."
In 2014, several months after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal in the case, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security granted the Romeike family a special status that allowed them to remain in the country.