METUCHEN, N.J. (RNS) — A third undocumented Indonesian has sought sanctuary in his New Jersey church, saying he fears deportation to his native country because Christians suffer persecution there.
Harry Pangemanan joins two other Indonesian Christians now living in the Reformed Church of Highland Park, about 35 miles south of New York City. One man has lived in the church for more than three months and the other for more than two weeks.
On Sunday (Jan. 28), three days after Pangemanan sought sanctuary in the church, fleeing what he believes were Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents outside his home, supporters gathered for a vigil and march in support of the three men.
The sanctuary seekers are backed by many in the local clergy and local government, as well as New Jersey's new governor, Phil Murphy, who has visited the church and on Thursday tweeted his promise to fight on their behalf.
"I just met with families torn apart, and others seeking sanctuary at Reformed Church of Highland Park. Our hearts go out to all New Jerseyans living in fear of deportation. I will fight for you," he tweeted.
I condemn today’s ICE raids in Middlesex. I just met with families torn apart, and others seeking sanctuary at Reformed Church of Highland Park. Our hearts go out to all New Jerseyans living in fear of deportation. I will fight for you. pic.twitter.com/5d0EQx91k5
— Governor Phil Murphy (@GovMurphy) January 25, 2018
The Highland Park church is one of more than 30 congregations across the nation that are housing people at risk of deportation, according to Church World Service, which is tracking the development.
Indonesia, the most populous Muslim-majority nation in the world, has come under intense criticism for the persecution of Christians within its borders. Last year the Christian governor of Jakarta, the nation's capital, was sentenced to two years in jail for blasphemy against Islam, a development many deemed a serious setback for those trying to shore up religious tolerance in Indonesia.
Sunday's vigil for the men, at the First Presbyterian Church of Metuchen, ended with a march to a rally at that town's municipal hall. There participants called for the release of two other Indonesian men who belong to the Reformed Church of Highland Park and who are being detained by ICE, as well as legislation to protect immigrants.
Melanie McDermott, a neighbor of one of the men seeking sanctuary in the church who attended the rally with her husband, said anti-immigrant policies should not target people who have established themselves as productive members of society.
“We feel that enough is enough. This has to stop. We want a path to citizenship for law-abiding people starting with asylum seekers who are part of our hardworking fabric of our nation,” she said.
At the rally, activists linked arms and sang the civil rights movement anthem "We Shall Overcome."
"If it took this situation to wake us up, so be it,” Metuchen Mayor Jonathan Busch said of the sanctuary seekers as he addressed the crowd.
“But we’re woken up now and we’re going to do something about it.”