ACLU-NJ & ACLU filed suit on behalf of targeted community members who need more time to challenge deportation to life-threatening conditions
In response to a federal class action lawsuit following aggressive roundups of Indonesian Christian residents of Central Jersey, a federal district court judge granted a temporary restraining order halting their deportations. The suit, filed Feb. 2 by the ACLU-NJ, ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, and the law firm Paul Weiss, appearing pro bono, was heard in court that afternoon and argued by ACLU-NJ Senior Supervising Attorney Alexander Shalom.
A day before the ruling, a federal judge in a similar ACLU case in Massachusetts ordered the government to halt the removal of Indonesian Christians. The judge ruled that they needed more time to file and receive decisions on motions to re-open their immigration cases because of increasingly perilous conditions for Christians in Indonesia.
The summary deportation of these longtime community members violates due process and deprives them of the opportunity to argue their case for asylum. U.S. law prohibits removal of people who would likely face persecution or torture, a risk that courts have ruled Christians, especially of Chinese descent, would encounter in Indonesia.
“These community members, our neighbors, are entitled to argue their case with the protections of due process, especially when the stakes are life-and-death,” said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Amol Sinha. “We stand with Harry, Mariyana, Roby, Gunawan, and hundreds of other community members like them, as do the communities they have contributed to for decades. They deserve to have notice before being exiled to a country where their lives will be at risk, and they deserve the opportunity to challenge that decision.”
Two of the people in the suit, Roby Sanger and Gunawan Liem, were detained without warning on Jan. 25 while dropping off their children at school, despite never having missed check-ins with ICE. Harry Pangemanan, a leader in his church who has been publicly recognized for his work leading a team of 3000 peoplerebuilding more than 200 homes destroyed by Superstorm Sandy, and who has for years travelled around the country to lead disaster relief volunteer trips, took refuge in the Reformed Church of Highland Park, co-led by the Rev. Seth Kaper-Dale and Rev. Stephanie Kaper-Dale, to avoid detention.
“This case involves life-and-death stakes and we are simply asking that these longtime residents be given opportunity to show that they are entitled to remain here,” said Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project. “As in other recent similar cases in Detroit, Boston, Miami and Los Angeles involving mass deportations, we are asking the court to make clear that the fundamental protections of due process apply to noncitizens.”
Rounding up community members without notice using years-old removal orders, which pre-date a recent uptick in violence against Christians in Indonesia, violates the Fifth Amendment right to due process, the suit argued.
Hundreds packed a church and marched in Metuchen on Jan. 28 in support of the families, voicing disapproval of their neighbors’ detention and deportation.
“We are extremely heartened and relieved that Judge Salas has ruled that these families may not be deported while she reviews their case,” said ACLU-NJ Senior Staff Attorney Farrin Anello. “Our Constitution and laws recognize that people must not be jailed or deported without an opportunity to seek court review of these harsh actions. Nowhere is this right to due process more important than in the government’s decision to send people to a country where their lives would be in danger.”
In 2009, dozens of Christian residents of Central Jersey, including the people in this suit, identified themselves to ICE as part of a program giving work authorization and stays of deportation to Indonesian Christian community members in exchange for coming out of the shadows, an agreement ICE worked out with Rev. Kaper-Dale. Thousands of Christians had fled Indonesia in the 1990s, as a new political regime took power that targeted Christians, especially those of Chinese descent.
Pangemanan and his wife, Mariyana Sunarto, along with Sanger, Liem, and most of the other plaintiffs in the suit, have U.S. citizen children.
“The government understands the threats that await our neighbors if they go back to Indonesia, but instead of doing all in its power to keep them safe, ICE is hastening their likely persecution,” said the Rev. Seth Kaper-Dale, who has known the people in the suit for years through his ministerial work. “These men and women have built up our communities, in some cases literally. They need the chance to argue in court against their deportation, and they need more time.”
Indonesia, the world’s largest majority-Muslim country, has seen a rise in anti-Christian persecution, coinciding with the ascendance of the Islamic State in the country. Last year, the Christian governor of Jakarta received a two-year prison sentence for blasphemy against Islam because he disputed the meaning of a passage in the Q’ran. Churches have been the target of violent attacks, and hundreds of others have closed because of laws limiting their construction.