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Pallone, Booker, Menendez Lead Call to Department of Homeland Security to Prevent Deportation of Indonesian Christians in New Jersey

April 14, 2021
Press Release

Washington, DC – Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. (NJ-06), Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Congressman Tom Malinowski (NJ-07), Congressman Bill Pascrell (NJ-09), Congressman Albio Sires (NJ-08), Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill (NJ-11), Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12), and Congressman Andy Kim (NJ-03) today sent a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas requesting Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) prevent the detainment and deportation of a group of Indonesian Christians in New Jersey. Central New Jersey is home to a thriving community of Christian Indonesians who settled in New Jersey after fleeing religious persecution.

In 2009, members of the community entered into an agreement with ICE that permitted them to live and work in the United States without fear of deportation if they remained exceptionally low enforcement priorities. During the Trump Administration, ICE revoked the conditions of the agreement and unnecessarily detained and deported members of the community. So far, ICE has refused to make any assurances that it will not seek to do the same in the Biden Administration.

“We urge the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to take immediate action to prevent Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from detaining and deporting this group of New Jersey residents who arrived here decades ago as refugees fleeing religious persecution in their home country. For nearly 30 years, these Christian refugees have raised families, bought homes, attended church services, and volunteered countless hours to aid neighbors,” the lawmakers wrote. “These New Jerseyans exemplify the best qualities of our state. Their ability to continue living and working safely in New Jersey is critical to the well-being of their U.S. citizen children and to the benefit of their church communities and neighbors they serve.”

“Although the Trump administration’s extreme anti-immigrant agenda may be behind us, we must ensure that the Biden administration ends the injustices that remain. That means respecting the constitutional rights, safety, and dignity of our clients in New Jersey’s Indonesian Christian community, and all communities,” said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Amol Sinha. “We’re grateful for New Jersey’s congressional delegation for taking a stand to protect a community that’s so important to the fabric of New Jersey, especially when any immigration enforcement action against them would be at odds with the federal government's stated immigration priorities. At a time when Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders face heightened threats to their safety, the federal government should not compound their fear with the specter of detention and deportation. Members of this community face persecution and a risk of death if deported to Indonesia, and we ask the federal government to safeguard their well-being, as our laws, our Constitution, and our values demand."

Pallone has been a longtime advocate for the Indonesian Christian community in New Jersey. In January 2018, Pallone condemned the Trump Administration’s detention and deportation of Indonesian men, calling the Administration’s actions toward these refugees cruel and inhumane. In May 2018, he and Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (NY-12) introduced the Indonesian Family Refugee Protection Act that would provide a legal avenue for members of the Indonesian Christian community to apply for asylum in the United States.

A copy of the letter is available here and full text is below:

April 14, 2021

The Honorable Alejandro Mayorkas

Office of the Executive Secretary – MS0525

U.S. Department of Homeland Security

2707 Martin Luther King Jr Ave SE

Washington, DC 20528-0525

Dear Secretary Mayorkas:

We write today on behalf of our constituents from the Indonesian Christian community here in New Jersey. We urge the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to take immediate action to prevent Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from detaining and deporting this group of New Jersey residents who arrived here decades ago as refugees fleeing religious persecution in their home country.

After the downfall of the Suharto regime in Indonesia in the late 1990s, many Indonesian Christians settled in Central New Jersey, and have become integral members of our communities. For nearly 30 years, these Christian refugees have raised families, bought homes, attended church services, and volunteered countless hours to aid neighbors.  These New Jerseyans exemplify the best qualities of our state. Their ability to continue living and working safely in New Jersey is critical to the well-being of their U.S. citizen children and to the benefit of their church communities and neighbors they serve. Detaining or deporting these individuals would be contrary to the priorities set forth in Acting Secretary Tae Johnson’s Memo (Johnson Memo) of February 18, 2021.

Dozens of community members in New Jersey entered an agreement with ICE in 2009 whereby members agreed to come forward in exchange for Orders of Supervision permitting them to live and work in the United States without fear of deportation, given that they were exceptionally low enforcement priorities. Under President Trump’s leadership, ICE reneged on its agreement, seeking to detain and, in some cases, deport several members of the community in 2017 and 2018, including a number of fathers as they were dropping off their children at school. This included local hero Harry Pangemanan, who was recognized for his volunteer work rebuilding over 200 homes destroyed by Superstorm Sandy.

In response to an ACLU lawsuit, on February 2, 2018, a federal judge issued a temporary stay of removal, allowing time for community members to file motions to reopen their asylum cases. While the putative class members in this lawsuit have acted diligently in retaining counsel and filing motions to reopen, roughly two dozen individuals still have motions to reopen pending without decision and remain vulnerable to deportation if the temporary stay is lifted. In connection with the pending lawsuit, ICE has refused to make any assurances that it will not detain or deport putative class members – even though, to the best of our knowledge, none of these people are enforcement priorities under the terms of the Johnson Memo.

As our nation rallies to stop the wave of hate crimes against members of the Asian American community, we are deeply troubled to see that ICE has not disclaimed the senseless and xenophobic actions taken against the Indonesian Christians living in our communities. ICE has a responsibility to fully implement the Johnson Memo and any failure to do so specifically in these cases risks the well-being of the U.S. citizen children of these Indonesian Christians, as well as the lives and safety of these refugees should they be forced to return to Indonesia. Christians in Indonesia remain targets of extremist violence, which was most recently demonstrated on March 28, when suicide bombers set off an explosion outside of a Catholic church after a Palm Sunday Mass in Mr. Pangemanan’s hometown on Sulawesi Island.

We respectfully request that DHS take the following steps with respect to all Indonesian nationals within the jurisdiction of the Newark ICE Field Office who have administratively final orders of removal predating 2009 and who, at any point in time during or after 2009, were subject to an order of supervision[1]:

  • Issue Orders of Supervision and Stays of Removal upon request;
  • Agree not to take any steps to deport, detain, electronically monitor, nor impose onerous reporting requirements on these individuals.

We urge DHS to put ICE’s new priorities into practice immediately on behalf of these constituents. Thank you for your attention to this critical matter and we look forward to your response and swift action to protect these vulnerable New Jerseyans.

 

[1] This group is the putative class in Pangemanan v. Tsoukaris, No. 18-cv-1510 (D.N.J.).