(Photo: Reformed Church of Highland Park)
Led by a New Jersey pastor, a group of Indonesian Christian immigrants and their supporters attempted to pressure a U.S. senator in his Newark office Thursday morning into supporting a bill that would help the group fight against deportation orders.
The crowd of about 20 held a brief rally in front of the office of Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D) after speaking briefly to the politician's staff, who expressed their moral support for the group of undocumented Indonesians, but made no committing promises, the Rev. Seth Kaper-Dale of the Reformed Church of Highland Park, the group's leader, told The Christian Post.
The undocumented group – mostly fathers with U.S.-born children – are part of a New Jersey community of Christian Indonesian immigrants who came to the U.S. in the 1990s, escaping religious persecution in their homeland dominated at the time by Islamic extremism. The men in question wish to be granted asylum, arguing that they have been honest members of the community and might face persecution back home as Christians.
The group's supporters helped put together a bill – introduced by Democratic Representatives Carolyn Maloney of New York and Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey – that is waiting for necessary political support.
The supporters of the bill are convinced that the piece of legislation is experiencing obstacles because politicians are wary of supporting any law dealing with immigration at a time of great partisan animosity in Washington, D.C., Kaper-Dale told CP recently.
Representatives from local churches as well as prominent community members came out Thursday to show their support for the Indonesian Christians, as Kaper-Dale "shouted out" a letter briefing the group's arguments in front of the politician's office.
"In Senator Lautenberg we also have a senator who is willing to see that it is morally reasonable to have some laws that serve some – not all laws need to be comprehensive," the minister read out loud. "Not all laws have to serve all people – sometimes the morally necessary thing to do is to create legislation that serves some persons in particular situations of persecution."
Sen. Lautenberg introduced the "Lautenberg Amendment," passed in 1990, which contains clauses that grant refugee status to religious minorities fleeing Iran and to Jews fleeing the former Soviet Union. The group is hoping for the politician's help, Kaper-Dale told CP.
The conversation with the senator's staff left the minister encouraged, he said, despite there being no expressed commitment to aid his cause.
"I do believe they care, I do believe they're concerned and that they wish the families can stay together. Whether they are willing to put political capital into it or not is yet to be determined," he told CP.
With the clock ticking for the immigrants, many of whom came to the U.S. on tourist visas but stayed beyond the predetermined date, Kaper-Dale is trying to gain support for the bill. The Indonesian Family Refugee Protection Act, or HR3590, would allow them to re-apply for refugee status, from which they are currently barred because they missed the one-year application deadline.
Meanwhile, over 70 Indonesian immigrants in New Jersey (as well as groups in New York and New Hampshire, as CP learned Thursday) have received deportation warning letters from federal immigration authorities recently. The group came clean with immigration authorities in 2003, but the U.S. government denied them asylum as refugees escaping religious persecution.
Since then, between 80 and 90 fathers from the community have been deported to the country where they potentially face persecution from both Muslim militia and the government. Meanwhile, the remaining refugees face imminent deportation, having only been able to stay in the country thanks to a makeshift arrangement Kaper-Dale and some supporters managed to negotiate for them with the authorities.