N.J. senator introduces bill to help Indonesian reopen U.S. asylum bids
NEWARK, N.J. — A group of Indonesian Christians facing deportation from the United States are hopeful that federal legislation introduced Monday will allow them the chance to reopen their bids for U.S. asylum.
The bill from U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey aims to help a group of Indonesian immigrants who say they fled religious persecution by anti-Christian extremists in the majority Muslim nation.
The U.S. government allowed hundreds of Indonesian Christians to come to America on tourist visas — most of them between 1996 and 2003 — at a time when more than 1,000 Christian churches were destroyed in the aftermath of the fall of the regime of longtime dictator Suharto.
However, after the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Washington, immigrant men between the ages of 16 and 65 who had entered the U.S. on temporary visas from predominantly Muslim countries were required to register with the U.S. government or be classified as terrorist fugitives.
Many who registered did not expect to face deportation back to Indonesia but found themselves in legal limbo as they had surpassed the time limit for applying for U.S. asylum on religious persecution grounds.
Lautenberg's bill, and companion House legislation cosponsored by Democratic U.S. Reps. Carolyn Maloney of New York and Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey, would not grant them amnesty but allow them to re-apply for asylum. The New Jersey Assembly unanimously passed a resolution last week endorsing federal legislation to help Indonesians.
Meanwhile, nine Indonesians in New Jersey who have been issued recent deportation orders have taken refuge in The Reformed Church of Highland Park, where the Rev. Seth Kaper-Dale has granted them sanctuary.
Harold Ort, a spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in New Jersey, said immigration officials have considered the merits of each case individually, and have extended a stay of removal in 25 of the New Jersey cases since the beginning of the year.
ICE officials said that as a matter of policy the agency does not usually conduct enforcement actions at sensitive locations, such as churches.