(Photo: Reformed Church of Highland Park via Facebook)
A group of some 100-odd Christian Indonesian refugees who fled their country due to religious persecution 10 years ago and have been living in New Jersey and New Hampshire – among other places – illegally, have appealed to President Barack Obama for help in an open letter earlier this week, as they are facing imminent deportation and reportedly renewed persecution.
"I write because your Administration's policy toward the Indonesian immigrant community has become so hostile as to suggest that, at best, it is arbitrary and capricious, and, at worst, punitive," said the group's spiritual leader, the Rev. Seth Kaper-Dale of the Reformed Church of Highland Park, N.J., who was the official signatory of the letter.
The minister emphasized the situation of Christians in Indonesia – the most populous Muslim country – where Christians have been known to have suffered religious persecution in the form of church bombings, personal assaults and various acts of mob violence.
The minister also reminded in the letter that an ICE memorandum "purported to adopt 'common sense guidelines' toward deportation issues while focusing on those persons who 'pose a clear risk to national security' or have criminal records."
"Despite this purported policy, your Administration has deported recently, and is in the process of deporting, non-criminal, non-threatening, Indonesian Christians to Indonesia," he added, addressing the president.
The group of Indonesians had entered the U.S. on tourist visas, most of them in the late 90s, when escaping a contemporary crackdown on Christians in their home country. They have overstayed their visas and many have established families, living quietly in the shadow of law, while attending their local churches, including the Reformed Church of Highland Park.
But when immigration authorities cracked down on undocumented immigrants from Muslim countries in the aftermath of 9/11, the presence of the community became known – the men of the New Jersey community decided to come clean themselves – and the Indonesians had to struggle to avoid deportation ever since.
In May 2006, 25 fathers were deported in one night, Kaper-Dale told CP in a previous interview. Additionally, in the past week, two Indonesian Christians from New Hampshire were also deported, according to the letter. Another 3 immigrants in New Hampshire were advised to report to be deported. There are some 20 to 30 others who face deportation from New Hampshire congregations this month.
Two members of the New Jersey congregation, Harry and Yana Pangemanan, reported to an ICE office in Newark Wednesday morning, according to the church's Facebook update. Pastor Seth accompanied them.
Following the Christian logic of helping their brethren of faith and knowing that persecution awaits them at home, members of New Jersey and New Hampshire Christian communities have been supporting the Indonesians. 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.
Recently, the group was pressuring a New Jersey senator to support the bill.
Kaper-Dale also complained in the letter to Obama about the way the Indonesians awaiting deportation are treated.
"In my church and in the churches around me, eight Indonesian Christians are now wearing electronic shackles so that, when the time for deportation comes, they can be more easily tracked down and deported," he wrote.
"These friends are beloved choir singers, treasurers, Sunday School teachers, Elders, not to mention that 2 of them are fathers of American citizen children. All these people are quiet, peace loving Christians, and none of them has a criminal record or is any threat to national security. In short, they are the kind of persons in the kind of circumstances that the United States used to welcome."