Despite deportation fears, NH's Indonesians celebrate

Sunday News Correspondent
August 20. 2017 3:47AM
Eny Wahyunsngsih and Juliana Houseman were in Madbury Saturday for Indonesian Independence Day. Both are U.S. citizens but say the struggles of immigrants in their community are serious. (KIMBERLEY HAAS/Sunday News Correspondent)

MADBURY - Despite fears of deportation, Indonesians and others turned out Saturday to celebrate that country's Independence Day.

At the Indonesian United Church of Christ Marantha, Rupert Cote said participants celebrate America's Fourth of July but also Aug. 17, the day in 1945 that Indonesia declared its independence from the Netherlands, just two days after the Japanese surrender in World War II.

"It's good to remember where you came from. Their country is very church-related, very religious. There were parts of the country that were persecuted because they were Christians, and that's why they left and moved here for a better life," Cote, who lives in Manchester, said.

Twenty-three Indonesians living in the Dover area for the last two decades are slated for deportation by immigration officials, a community leader said last week. As many as 30 more expect the same fate in the coming months.

All are Christians who fled Indonesia in the late 1990s because of persecution by Muslim extremists, said Rev. Sandra Pontoh.

Even though food and festivities were planned at celebrations on the Seacoast Saturday, Cote said some families are living in fear every day. There are approximately 2,000 Indonesians living in Rochester, Dover, Somersworth, Portsmouth and the surrounding towns.

"They are afraid of immigration problems. Some of them are under supervision, and they come and report to Manchester. Some of them have been told when they report to Manchester, 'Bring an airplane ticket with you,' even though they're trying to do what is right, and obviously they can't argue, so that's their issue," Cote said.

All of the people being deported were unauthorized immigrants who visited the Manchester Immigration and Customs Enforcement office for their regular check-in meeting.

Eny Wahyunsngsih, of Dover and Juliana Houseman, of Manchester, are now U.S. citizens. They were selling food to raise money for the church. Wahyunsngsih said the fear of deportation is just part of what they faced as immigrants in America.

"As an immigrant here, it's very hard, the beginning. How we can get jobs and how we can become legal here and we have to fight. It's like, we have to fight," Wahyunsngsih said.

U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., said last week that a five-year-old arrangement for the Indonesians to work and stay in the country should continue.

"It is unconscionable that the Trump administration would prioritize the deportation of Indonesian families who came to the United States fleeing religious persecution and seeking asylum," Shaheen said in a statement.

Liz Johnson, an assistant director of the ICE Office of Public Affairs, said all of the Indonesians to be deported are subject to enforcement following full and fair immigration proceedings, after which a federal immigration judge found them ineligible for any form of relief under U.S. law.

Cote said that speakers were planned for Saturday's celebration to help alleviate the fears within the Indonesian community.

"Nobody has a clear message of what's going on," Cote said.

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