Jul 11, 2012

Lautenberg to introduce legislation to help Indonesian immigrants

Written by
Susan Loyer

HIGHLAND PARK — Some much-needed good news has been received by the Indonesian community and its supporters and it comes at the heels of yet another Indonesian immigrant finding sanctuary at a borough church rather than face deportation by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials.

The New Jersey assembly approved a resolution urging federal officials to pass HR-3590 — the Indonesian Refugee Family Protection Act. If passed, the federal bill, introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Reps. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., and Frank J. Pallone Jr., D-N.J., will allow qualifying Indonesian immigrants the opportunity to reopen asylum claims that were denied solely for missing a one-year filing deadline.

In addition, U.S. Senator Frank R. Lautenberg, D-N.J., announced Friday that he will introduce a companion bill to HR-3590 in the U.S.Senate next week.

“These Indonesian families sought refuge in our country to keep their families safe from harm and religious persecution,” Lautenberg said in a news release. “America has a long history of protecting refugees from persecution and this legislation gives these families a chance to legally seek asylum and to continue contributing to our country.”

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, many Indonesian Christians came to the United States on tourist visas to escape religious persecution in their homeland.

At the request of the U.S. government, many of the Indonesians registered with the government under a program requiring the registration of non-citizen males from certain countries following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Following this registration, the government began deportation proceedings against some Indonesians who had overstayed their visas.

Many of these families have lived, worked, and paid taxes in the United States for years and now have children who are U.S. citizens. A number of these families have settled in areas surrounding Highland Park, where they have become a part of the community.

The Rev. Seth Kaper-Dale, co-pastor of the Reformed Church of Highland Park, which has granted sanctuary to nine immigrants in danger of deportation, was grateful to legislators for their support.

“It’s a huge affirmation for us that our elected officials agree with the concerns that we are highlighting and that there is a real human rights concern for people we love deeply,’’ Kaper-Dale said. “These affirmations will make us push harder than ever. It show that legislators are taking notice.’’

The state’s legislative resolution was sponsored by Assemblyman Peter Barnes III, D-Middlesex, and Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan Jr., D-Middlesex.

“Many of these individuals and families came to this country in the 1990’s to escape religious persecution and since then have become vibrant members of our community,’’ said Barnes, who visited the immigrants staying at the Reformed Church of Highland Park in May. “Deporting these people will sever families and cause a great deal of financial and other unforeseen problems for both them and our community.’’

Barnes said he believes the policy will protect friends and neighbors from being sent back to a place of unspeakable religious violence.

“We cannot in good conscience let our friends be sent back to a place where churches and homes are burned, lynching occurs and the penalty for being accused of blasphemy is death,’’ he said.