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Children of Christian Indonesians detained by ICE make case for keeping families together

The detained men are Chinese Christians who fled Indonesia in the mid-to-late ‘90s to escape the the collapse of the Suharto regime, their reverend said.
Seth Kaper-Dale, left, a pastor, talks to Arthur Jemmy, an Indonesian man who is taking sanctuary in Kaper-Dale's church to avoid deportation in Highland Park, N.J.Julio Cortez / AP file

The children of men currently in U.S. immigration detention centers plan to travel to the nation’s capitol Tuesday to meet with federal lawmakers amid debate over the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy that separated parents and children at the southern border.

“The message we want to send is that finally people have recognized that keeping families together ought to be the baseline of all conversations about immigration reform,” said the Rev. Seth Kaper-Dale, co-pastor of the New Jersey-based Reformed Church of Highland Park, who organized the trip.

Kaper-Dale — who has offered his church as a sanctuary to immigrants, including Indonesians, in fear of deportation — said much of the recent attention has been focused on family separations at the border.

“This country ought to be concerned about kids beings separated in the interior of the country too,” he added.

Kaper-Dale said he plans to travel Tuesday to D.C. with seven children, ages 9 to 16, and rally first in the morning at the Supreme Court. Later, they are slated to visit with members of Congress from New Jersey, including Sens. Cory Booker and Bob Menendez, as well as Rep. Frank Pallone, all Democrats.

“We know that the congressional solutions will take a long time...and we’d like the Supreme Court to find a way to stop the bleeding, if you will, and help families immediately,” Kaper-Dale said.

Part of the group are children of Roby Sangr and Gunawan Liem, both from Indonesia, the reverend said. The pair was picked up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in January. Each had overstayed his tourist visa and had not applied for asylum within the required time, according to Kaper-Dale.

He said the men are ethnic Chinese Christians who fled Indonesia in the mid-to-late ‘90s to escape the the collapse of the Suharto regime, which experienced cronyism and corruption. A large group ended up settling in central New Jersey.

Arthur Jemmy walks through a hallway at The Reformed Church of Highland Park, where he and his wife are taking sanctuary to avoid deportation in Highland Park, N.J.Julio Cortez / AP file

Sangr and Liem do not have criminal records, Kaper-Dale said.

The American Civil Liberties Union, who in February won a temporary restraining order halting their deportations, said courts have ruled that persecution or torture is a risk that Christians, especially of Chinese descent, would encounter in Indonesia.

U.S. law prohibits removal of people who would likely face persecution or torture, according to the ACLU.

The church’s D.C. trip comes as debate over immigration grips the nation.

President Donald Trump last week signed an executive order reversing his administration's policy of separating children from their parents at the border and allowing families to instead be detained together.

Trump said the order "will solve that problem" of children being separated from their parents, though it would not end his administration's "zero tolerance" policy of charging everyone who attempts to cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally.

As of June 20, there were 2,053 separated minors being cared for in facilities funded by the Department of Health and Human Services, according to a Department of Homeland Security statement released June 23. Customs and Border Protection had reunited 522 children separated from adults as part of the zero-tolerance policy, the release said.

But in some recent cases, families that have already laid down roots in the U.S. have also been broken up as immigrant family members, for various reasons, have been taken into custody by immigration agents.

Sangr and Liem are all being held in ICE detention centers in New Jersey, Kaper-Dale said.

He said he hopes elected officials come up with a real immigration solution.

“These are not kids who are used to speaking to the media or speaking to lawmakers, but they are quickly figuring out that what they have left right now is their voice — and they have to use it,” the reverend said.

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