On February 1, a federal judge put a halt to the deportation of about 50 Indonesian Christians living in New Hampshire. The next day, a different judge took the same measure to protect another 50 Indonesian Christians in New Jersey.
Despite an ongoing crackdown by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on immigrants living in the United States illegally, these 100 Christians from Southeast Asia can breathe a little easier—for now.
In the New Hampshire case, US District Judge Patti Saris gave the immigrants living mostly in the state’s coastal towns 90 days to reopen their cases once they receive the necessary paperwork.
Most of the endangered immigrants are counted among a group of about 2,000 ethnic Chinese Indonesian Christians who fled violence in their home country two decades ago. Each of them entered the United States legally, typically via tourist visas now long overstayed. While some have been granted legal status, others—including the dozens now threatened with deportation—have seen their applications denied or stalled.
The immigrants have held jobs, raised families, and lived peacefully in the US over the last 20 years. But their reprieve granted under previous administrations has ended as President Donald Trump emphasized a policy of removing illegal aliens.
‘The Last Fight’
“This is a hard case,” said Saris at a hearing, according to Reuters. “These are good and decent people who have stayed here with our blessing and were given work authority and haven’t violated the opinions we imposed on them.”
In her opinion, Saris concluded that the 90-day pause was warranted in light of the potentially deadly circumstances that may await Christians forcibly returned to Indonesia.
“A brief delay in unlawful deportation of residents who have lived here with government permission for over a decade outweighs the public interest in prompt execution of removal orders, where petitioners have been law-abiding and pose no threat to public safety,” Saris wrote.
The immigrants have lived in the US for years, protected since 2010 by a now-defunct humanitarian program called “Operation Indonesian Surrender.” However, beginning in August of last year, as these individuals attended their regular ICE check-ins, they were informed of their impending deportation.
The plight of the dozens of Indonesian Christians in the New Jersey case is similar. In that case, US District Judge Esther Salas granted a temporary stay to deportations in response to a lawsuit put forth by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
New Hampshire governor, Chris Sununu, lauded the decision in his state and affirmed the court’s call for further re-examination in the case. “I will continue to advocate for a resolution that protects these individuals from religious persecution and allows them to remain in the United States,” he stated.
Lee Gelernt, an attorney with the ACLU, critiqued ICE tactics in the case and expressed relief at the stay. “The ruling ensures that the fundamental principles of habeas corpus and due process will not be discarded in the rush to deport these longtime residents,” he told Law360.
Sandra Pontoh, pastor of the Madbury Maranatha Indonesian Fellowship in Madbury, New Hampshire, also rejoiced at the ruling.
“I was hoping the judge would decide to let my friends work on their case for 90 days. That is what we hoped,” Pontoh told the Associated Press. “This is wonderful. That means my friends can have time, their lawyers will have more time to work on their cases. This is the last fight for them.”
Click here to read more.
Source: Christianity Today