U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey has pushed forth a new bill allowing Indonesian Christians living illegally in the United States to seek asylum and be protected from facing persecution back home.
"They have a lot to contribute. They're energetic people – we've seen it. They're working, they're part of the community. But they also happened to miss a deadline. And, that kind of a mishap should not prevent good people from being here," Lautenberg said.
The group that would specifically be aided by Lautenberg's proposed bill includes Indonesian refugees who were initially registered with the government after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, but overstayed their visas. Upon discovery, the government has been deporting them back to Indonesia.
"We just have to make sure that people understand what we're doing, We're not opening a flood-gate or anything like that. But we do want to show that America still cares about those people who are prosecuted or harassed through no fault of their own," Lautenberg added.
"These Indonesian families sought refuge in our country to keep their families safe from harm and religious persecution. America has a long history of protecting refugees from persecution and this legislation gives these families a chance to legally seek asylum and to continue contributing to our country."
The bill was introduced to the Senate on Monday, and will also be brought up to the House of Representatives.
Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world, with over 88 percent of the total 202 million population practicing Islam. Christians, on the other hand, are a small minority, with 7 percent of the population identifying as Protestant and 3 percent as Catholic.
Although the Indonesian government provides some religious freedom to people of other faiths, many Christians have been targeted and faced persecution in the Asian country, with over a thousand churches being destroyed by anti-Christian extremists in the past two decades.
Hundreds have escaped to the U.S. on tourist visas, many between the years of 1996 and 2003, but now face the possibility of being deported back to Indonesia, unless they are granted asylum rights – and Sen. Lautenberg hopes his bill, if passed into law, will allow these refugees to re-apply for asylum.
The Reformed Church of Highland Park in Highland Park, N.J., has been giving shelter and protection to many Indonesian refugees finding themselves in this situation. As their application for asylum remains unclear and they wait for Lautenberg's bill to be voted on, the Rev. Seth Kaper-Dale, the church's pastor, has said that the governments needs to provide these people a chance to stay in the U.S. and escape persecution from Muslim extremists back home.
"We are humbly and respectfully disagreeing with the government. We are not trying to be flamboyant in any way. We are people who love government, who trust in laws; who believe that God uses law to bring order to society. We are not anarchists or anything like that. We just really feel that sometimes it's the role of the church to remind the government of a higher law," Kaper-Dale has said.
The Reformed Church of Highland Park has been trying to rally support for Lautenberg's bill, calling on the public to contact their representatives and convince them to vote in favor of the proposed law. The Rev. Kaper-Dale has also posted petitions to draw attention to men in his congregation who could be separated from their families if their deportations go through.