Home » Selective compassion: The Romeike family and the GOP’s immigration hypocrisy

Selective compassion: The Romeike family and the GOP’s immigration hypocrisy

One word can describe Republicans’ views on undocumented immigrants: dehumanizing. Not too long ago, Republican “religious” voters justified Trump’s horrible family separation policy for migrants, sometimes referred to as “kids in cages.” Trump had an obsession with harming migrants fleeing with their families who were trying to declare asylum at the Southern border. He openly suggested violent ideas:

Privately, the president had often talked about fortifying a border wall with a water-filled trench, stocked with snakes or alligators, prompting aides to seek a cost estimate. He wanted the wall electrified, with spikes on top that could pierce human flesh.

After publicly suggesting that soldiers shoot migrants if they threw rocks, the president backed off when his staff told him that was illegal. But later in a meeting, aides recalled, he suggested that they shoot migrants in the legs to slow them down. That’s not allowed either, they told him.

This hate rhetoric stems from the Nazi “Great Replacement” theory, claiming that Democrats are trying to bring in brown immigrants to dilute the power of whites. The utter lack of compassion for families fleeing violence, starvation, and oppression from their home countries is heartbreaking, but sadly, isn’t anything surprising or new. What did shock me was the right’s reaction to a recent story about an undocumented immigrant family, the Romeikes.

RELATED STORY: Rep. Jasmine Crockett goes all in on Republicans during immigration hearing

If you look up “Romeike family” on social media, you will only see them featured by conservatives. That’s because they are beyond outraged that this family is facing deportation.


The Romeikes are a German family who immigrated illegally into this country. They are fortunate because they recently received a one-year reprieve to be allowed to stay in their home in Tennessee thanks to a ton of pressure from right-wing religious conservatives. These would be the same conservatives who were perfectly fine with traumatizing toddlers or killing migrants. However, the Romeike family is somehow different. I can’t quite put my finger on it. …

That’s the other thing. They were fleeing “religious persecution.” And what was that persecution? Germany doesn’t allow children to be homeschooled. Seriously. That’s their persecution. Just listen to how unbelievably empathetic the news anchor is on the local Knoxville station.

The Romeike family’s story began when they came to this country on a 90-day visa, and simply decided not to go back. In 2014, the Obama administration’s Department of Homeland Security granted “deferred action” status to seven members of the Romeike family, allowing them to remain in the country. This status was granted after the family withdrew their children from Germany’s public school system, citing concerns about the system’s impact on their children’s “family values.”

The Romeikes wanted to homeschool and are evangelical Christians, and for some reason didn’t want to avail themselves of any of the 150 Christian schools they could have sent their children to if public school wasn’t up their alley, so they decided to flee their oppression and become undocumented immigrants in the U.S. All of the sudden, evangelical conservatives, without a hint of irony, became champions of this family’s “illegal immigration.”

what really constitutes religious persecution

It is important to keep in mind that the United States has a long history of granting asylum to individuals fleeing violence, persecution, and oppression in their home countries. Yet the Romeike family’s claim of “religious persecution” in Germany was rooted in their disagreement with the German public school system, which includes a ban on the teaching of hate speech and Holocaust denial.

Meanwhile, migrants from Central America are fleeing real persecution and violence from destabilized nations due to cartels and transnational gangs. Recently, families composed of 60 people fled Haiti due to rampant gang violence. A U.S. State Department travel advisory reads: “Do not travel to Haiti due to kidnapping, crime, civil unrest, and poor healthcare infrastructure.” Yet this past August, all 60 of those people were forced back to Haiti. If only they were fleeing the horrors of a public school system they didn’t like—and were white.  

Hannelore and Uwe Romeike.

Despite the deferred action status, the Romeike family exhausted all of their appeals and deportation was finally on the table after 15 years. This sudden turn of events had left the family “devastated and bewildered.”

Patriarch Uwe Romeike expressed his fear that deportation would “tear the family apart.” His wife, Hannelore, however, thinks that they will get to stay. “I expect the Lord to intervene on our behalf.”

In the face of this potential deportation, the family, which has had years to resolve their legal status, have argued that since their adult children have married Americans and started families, they should be allowed to stay. This, by the way, is exactly the same argument the right wing uses against immigration for brown families. They derogatorily refer to brown children born from migrants who come here as “anchor babies.”

a tale of two families

TOPSHOT - A sheriff's deputy (R) talks to an immigration detainee (L) in a high security housing unit at the Theo Lacy Facility, a county jail which also houses immigration detainees arrested by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement  (ICE), March 14, 2017 in Orange, California, about 32 miles (52km) southeast of Los Angeles.   .US President Donald Trumps first budget provides more than USD 4.5 billion in new spending to fight illegal immigration by adding immigration and border enforcement agents, prosecutors and judges, as well as building a wall on the border with Mexico. / AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck        (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images)
Theo Lacy Facility, a county jail that also houses immigration detainees arrested by ICE agents in Orange County, California.

Yet Uwe Romeike was at least granted temporary asylum, a courtesy denied to Jose Mares. Just like the Romeikes, Mares came to the United States illegally, yet his treatment has been very different.

He was only 8 years old when his parents brought him here. Like the Romeikes, he made a nice life for himself in the U.S. and has a daughter who was born here.

Unfortunately, he was pulled over in 2015 due to expired tags on his car. The Romeikes had a congenial immigration officer who came to their house and told them to get their passports in order for possible deportation. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents took a slightly different approach to Mares:

“As soon as I got to my job I exited my car, and I walked away probably like no more than 50 feet and you know I was apprehended by, it was either four or five, ICE agents. The good thing was that my daughter didn’t see when they took me, because I know she would have been even more devastated to see it happen.”

At 39 years old, he was deported to Mexico, a place he hadn’t been since he was 3. The single father was forced to leave behind his 18-year-old daughter.

“I wish that I could, you know, wake up every morning and hug her and give her a kiss on her forehead the way I used to every morning. You know, enjoy a cup of coffee with her. And you know, just do the things that we normally used to do.”

Sadly, his tale is common. Many Mexican and Latin American parents who have small children, or even bear children in the U.S. who are American citizens, are forced to take them back after they are caught and deported. Conservatives don’t care that they have built an entire life here and are contributing to our society, and they sure as hell don’t care about the children being forced to return to a potentially bad and in many cases completely foreign situation.

language barrier and the lost generation

Even for those migrants who aren’t escaping violence, their children don’t speak the language and have no resources in the nations they are forced to return to. These nations, including Mexico, have almost no money for students struggling with Spanish as a second language, so the kids are forced to attend school in a language they don’t know. For a child, the culture shock and isolation can be traumatizing. The children are called “los invisibles,” or the invisible ones. Eleven-year-old Elizabeth Rossil is one of those children, telling USA Today:

“I’m supposed to be in already seventh grade. I didn’t flunk or anything, but they made me go again … because I didn’t know anything in Spanish.”

There are so many of these American-born children deported to Mexico that they are becoming a lost generation. Yet it can be so much worse. Nineteen-year-old Manuel Antonio Cano Pacheco was kidnapped and killed once he was forced back to Mexico after spending nearly his entire life in Iowa. But please, go on and tell me how Uwe and Hannelore Romeike are suffering.

The Romeikes’ undocumented status doesn’t seem to bother multiple prominent conservatives. Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn and right-wing personality Glenn Beck have both offered a lot of support and even significant financial contributions to aid in their legal battle. Lest you believe that Beck would have donated $50,000 of his own money if the family wasn’t white evangelical, let me give some insight on what he thinks of “illegal immigrants” from non-white nations:

“One, they’re terrorists; two, they’re escaping the law; or three, they’re hungry. They can’t make a living in their own dirtbag country.”

Of course, that’s not how he frames the Romeikes. He has posted multiple videos on how Biden wants to deport Christians who are facing “persecution” in their home countries. (I won’t link to any of his videos, but you can Google them if you are interested.)

The Romeike case demonstrates the apparent selective compassion and hypocrisy of the Republicans’ immigration rhetoric, which has gotten worse in recent weeks. For instance, Trump recently echoed Adolf Hitler that foreign immigrants are “poisoning the blood of our country.” This shouldn’t be surprising since he launched his campaign in 2016 calling Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals.


The fact is there are thousands of European families that have immigrated to the United States and are staying here illegally, but when Fox News shows pictures of “illegal immigrants,” it’s always a caravan of brown people from Latin America. It’s never white people.

In fact, depending on how much outrage they want to gin up amongst their base around election time, the right-wing media steadily increase the amount of caravans.

For conservatives who twist themselves into pretzels arguing that the Romeikes had a different circumstance than the brown immigrants on the Southern border, I would agree. In fact, the Romeikes had access to a U.S. visa waiver program that other immigrants, particularly those of non-white backgrounds, did not. Citizens of Germany, New Zealand, Hungary, Iceland, and Estonia all have a straightforward and legal entry path into the United States that the Romeikes, for whatever reason, chose not to use. This waiver program specifically excludes majority non-white nations such as Mexico, China, India, and the Philippines.

investing in a fair and efficient system

The Romeike family’s situation underscores the importance of investing in a fair and efficient immigration system. Asylum claims should be evaluated carefully and be based on objective criteria that consider the legitimacy of the persecution faced by individuals, rather than subjective, ethnic, or political factors. Both Democrats and Republicans agree that our current immigration system needs fixing, as demonstrated by the large backlog of asylum cases and woeful shortage of immigration judges.

We could do many things to improve the state of immigration in this country. We could increase resources for processing asylum claims. We could address the root causes of migration in the first place by working with other governments and organizations to create safe zones for refugees.

The Llanos family fled Venezuela due to violent threats and applied for asylum using the first safe mobility office in Colombia.

We could also increase legal migration options that don’t require people to make a dangerous journey to the border just to request asylum, which was currently the only lawful way to do it until the Biden administration set up “safe mobility offices” in Colombia, with more offices opening in Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Ecuador starting in the fall. The program has plans to expand to other South American nations.

Unfortunately, Republicans are not interested in solving the immigration crisis. Biden has tried to give local governments and nonprofits federal resources to support temporary food, shelter, and other services as well as add an additional 1,300 more Border Patrol agents at the border, yet House Republicans have obstructed that request. Their soon-to-be presidential nominee has a more sinister project in mind.

Stephen Miller, the white supremacist architect of Trump’s initial family separation policy, is already making plans with Trump if he returns to the White House. He and Trump are planning a massive deportation effort, along with an expensive program to build huge detention camps across the U.S. The cost of this effort will likely be tens of billions of dollars, but the human cost will be incalculable. If Congress refuses to fund the effort, Trump promises to play dictator and forcibly redirect funds from the Pentagon.

We already lose billions in economic growth and tax revenue by not allowing the undocumented to fully contribute. Yet if we tried to actually round up millions of undocumented immigrants, the impact on our economy would be devastating. The fact is that migrants bring significant value to this country. Consider these facts:

  • 1 in 8 U.S. residents is an immigrant.

  • Immigrants, many of them undocumented, paid over $500 billion in taxes in 2021.

  • 22% of all U.S. entrepreneurs are immigrants, including some famous ones, like politician and action star Arnold Schwarzenegger, basketball player Dikembe Mutongo, Google co-founder Sergey Brin, and baseball player Mariano Rivera.

I seriously doubt the Romeike family will find themselves in one of those detention camps if Trump comes back in power. That family is the only kind of undocumented immigrant family that warrants empathy from Republicans, as opposed to Latin American families grappling with hunger or fleeing from violence. Yet if they were European and wanted to homeschool their kids with white supremacist teaching points, I’m willing to bet that GOP lawmakers would have long ago been able to find the resources needed to solve the immigration crisis.

RELATED STORY: Speaker Mike Johnson is proudly taking orders from Trump on immigration

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January 2024