ICE Deports Christian Man Who Fled Persecution Back to Indonesia

Supporters rally outside Elizabeth Detention Center on May 18, 2017. They called for the release of four Indonesian Christian men who said they fled more than 20 years ago due to religious persecution. (Photo: Hannan Adely)

With support from community and faith leaders, a group of Indonesian men have fought a long and public battle to remain in the U.S. after fleeing home two decades ago to escape religious persecution.

But on Thursday, the battle ended for one of those men. Immigration authorities put Arino Massie on a plane at JFK Airport headed to Japan, where he will be routed to his native country. Three other Indonesian men, placed into custody with Massie, also face deportation.

Massie is one of thousands of immigrants, in the country illegally, who have been caught in a crackdown following executive orders that broadened the scope of who could be targeted for immigration violations. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement reported this week that it has arrested more than 41,000 suspected undocumented immigrants during President Donald Trump’s first 100 days, a 40 percent increase from the same period last year.

The Rev. Seth Kaper-Dale, who has fought for the men to be allowed to stay in the U.S., was headed to a rally outside Elizabeth Detention Center, where they were being held, when he learned that a request for a “stay or removal” for Massie had been denied. Then, at 11:45 a.m., he heard from Massie.

“An hour later from the airport, Arino called to say, ‘Pastor, I’m already on the plane. I’m headed for Japan. Thanks for all the efforts of the community. Tell the community I love them. Tell my son I love him,’” Kaper-Dale recounted to the crowd of about three dozen people at the rally Thursday.

Massie’s wife and 12-year-old son, Joel, live in Edison. His wife didn’t attend the rally, and his son was in school unaware that his father had been deported, he said.

ICE spokesman Luis Martinez confirmed that Massie had been “removed” at noon, but did not offer comment on the case. Asked about the men’s case nearly two weeks ago, he said ICE would “no longer exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement.”

He also said that “aliens in violation of the immigration laws are subject to immigration arrest, detention, and placement in removal proceedings.”

The men are part of a community of Indonesian Christians who fled religious persecution in Indonesia in the 1990s and early 2000s and came to the U.S. with tourist visas and stayed when those visas expired.

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