Fearing deportation, a third Indonesian Christian seeks sanctuary in a NJ church

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, right, speaks with parishioners at Highland Park Reformed Church on Jan. 25, 2018, in Highland Park, NJ. Harry Pangemanan, left, an Indonesian man, claimed sanctuary at the church after ICE agents went to his front door. (Photo by Bob Karp via USAToday)

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.

READ: Resisting Trump, churches give sanctuary to immigrants facing deportation

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.

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.

Asylum seeker Harry Pangemanan, right, plays guitar during the Indonesian service at the Reformed Church of Highland Park on Jan. 28. 2018, in Highland Park, N.J. RNS photo by Chris Sagona

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.

Supporters of asylum seekers rally at the municipal hall in Metuchen, N.J., on Jan. 28, 2018. RNS photo by Chris Sagona

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.”

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Chris Sagona


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  • Oh no. Quiz time already? Alright, give it to me.

    TRUE OR FALSE: “Christians suffer persecution there [in Indonesia] … Indonesia, the most populous Muslim-majority nation in the world, has come under intense criticism for the persecution of Christians within its borders.”

    FALSE. What’s true, rather, is that “Christians in Indonesia are a disfavored group. … A ‘disfavored group’ is ‘a group of individuals in a certain country or part of a country, all of whom share a common, protected characteristic, many of whom are mistreated, and a substantial number of whom are persecuted’ but who are ‘not threatened by a pattern or practice of systematic persecution.’ … The ethnic Chinese are a disfavored group in Indonesia, and … Chinese Christians are disfavored in Indonesia, [but] we have never determined whether Christians who are not Chinese are a disfavored group in Indonesia.”

    (Source: United States Court Of Appeals for The Ninth Circuit: Riori Tampubolon, Erlinda Silitonga v Eric H. Holder Jr., Attorney: On Petition for Review of Orders of the Board Of Immigration Appeals: February 4, 2010, Pasadena, California: Betty B. Fletcher, Harry Pregerson and Susan P. Graber, Circuit Judges: Opinion by Judge Pregerson.)

  • Asylum seekers deserve special consideration, but the issue goes far beyond that. Longstanding peaceable, productive members our communities and houses of worship, whose (American citizen) children go to our schools, should not have live in fear of being ripped from their homes! A ‘plan’ to deport all (or a random subset of) the 11 million undocumented people living in this country is not only inhumanely, it makes absolutely no sense as public policy and will be suicidal to our economy!

  • I said ‘consideration.’ Consistent with international standards, asylum seekers have a right to have their cases thoroughly investigated.
    As a matter of compassion, and of sound social policy, other factors come in to play in judging whether deportation is just and sensible even for non-asylum cases.

  • A “right??” This right they have, it must be a right bequeathed by a potentially imaginary deity, yes? It’s not earned of course, is it? I submit asylum seekers have essentially no such right.

  • Asylum seekers are not actually considered illegal aliens. If asylum is granted, deportation can be stopped.

  • Nope. It’s a right in the Immigration and Naturalization Act. Asylum seekers have a path to citizenship. At this point those people can probably lawyer up and prevent deportation on such grounds.

  • The worst part of the story is the thuggish behavior of ICE. They trashed the house of one of the suspects for no apparent reason.

  • Some important facts about these people are omitted from the article. Start with their status. Is Mr Pangemanan a refugee? Are the others seeking sanctuary also refugees? If they are refugees, do they know that a refugee can apply for asylum even before entering the United States? (I could ask a dozen more important questions.)

  • There is a difference between refugee and illegal immigrant. Are these folks here as refugees? If so, has it been determined that the reason for their refugee status has been removed? If so, they are wrong, and the church is wrong for trying to give them sanctuary. In addition, if their refugee status has been removed, and they are still hiding (or seeking sanctuary in this church, then they are in fact illegal, and ICE is justified in sending them back to their home country.
    It is really not that difficult.

  • More likely than not, they never applied for refugee status.

    USCIS and ICE do not go out of their way to explain such things to people nor suggest it as an alternative to deportation. It practically requires some measure of legal representation to go through such things effectively.

    The best course of action is for them to lawyer up and apply for asylum.

    It appeared ICE was acting particularly out of line in their actions with one of the people. I would not blame the person to seek sanctuary when law enforcement officers are acting in an unprofessional manner.
    “To me it felt like sending a message of some sort or like they were looking for something non-money wise.”

  • Your own quote demonstrates that “a substantial number” of either Christians in general, or ethnically Chinese Christians in particular, “are persecuted” in Indonesia. It just may not be a “pattern or practice of systematic persecution.”

  • What does it mean, then, to be “‘persecuted’ but … ‘not threatened by a pattern or practice of systematic persecution'”? And, other than just going against Trump, why does this article not say it like that?

  • there are many different kinds of Judaism. Just like there are many kinds of persecution. I know your black and white, no nuance mind finds this difficult to deal with.

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