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Somersworth man: 'DACA saved me, but my parents are facing deportation'

New Hampshire Sunday News

September 23. 2017 9:49PM
Timothy Sombah earned his certificate in information systems technology from Great Bay Community College. His parents, Freddy and Poppy Sombah, attended his graduation ceremony in May. (Courtesy photo)

SOMERSWORTH - In the midst of a family nightmare, Timothy Sombah still believes in the American dream.

Sombah, 29, is protected, at least for now, by the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program. But his parents, who came to this country 14 years ago on tourist visas, have been ordered by immigration officials to return to their native Indonesia.

He doesn't know how he can bear seeing his parents leave. He's their only child and the three of them have always been together.

"It's hard," he said. "I can't say how many times I've cried myself to sleep."

"But I feel like I have to be strong for them. I'm the one helping them. My parents would rather abide by the law than become fugitives, so they're just following all the protocols."

His parents have been under what Immigration and Customs Enforcement calls an "order of supervision" for some time, Sombah said. They are authorized to work, and required to check in periodically with the ICE office in Manchester.

Starting in January, they had to check in monthly.

"We thought that by going through this order of supervision, it would open up a way somehow, but it didn't," Sombah said. "And look at them now."

They learned later that their former lawyer had missed a crucial deadline to file a motion to reopen their case. Just recently, on Timothy's 29th birthday, they were notified that their final appeal had been denied.

The Sombahs were told to bring airplane tickets to last month's ICE check-in.

Those tickets are for this Wednesday.

His dad is 64, his mom 61.

Freddy and Poppy Sombah came to the United States in 2003 on tourist visas with their then-15-year-old son. They were Christians, and persecution against their religious minority was rising, Sombah said. "I was little back then so I didn't really quite understand what it was," he said.

His parents have told him that Islamic extremists sometimes interrupted church services, beating people up and halting worship. And Sombah remembers a day when large gangs attacked the Christian school he was attending.

"We were surrounded," he said. "I was able to run away."

He managed to jump aboard public transportation. "This is something that I won't ever forget ... . As soon as I got on that, I turned around and I see this ocean of people. It was crazy."

Soon after, his parents managed to gather the funds, and the paperwork, to leave. They came to New Hampshire, where they have relatives, and settled in Somersworth, which has a vibrant Indonesian community.

They felt welcome, Sombah said. "People are very nice here."

The family applied for asylum, based on religious persecution. Sombah remembers being in the courtroom when the decision was announced: "The judge said our evidence wasn't good enough."

"My heart just dropped."

In the years since, they filed appeal after appeal. Meanwhile, Sombah graduated from Dover High School and went to work to help support the family.

Last year, he earned his certification in information systems technology at Great Bay Community College. He works as a fiber network engineer for a subcontractor for Comcast, where he said co-workers have been supportive.

After the DACA program was created in 2012, the family applied for that status for Timothy. And after a rigorous process that included background checks, proof of residency and education transcripts, he was certified as a so-called Dreamer.

"Fast-forward to now ... DACA saved me, but my parents are facing deportation," he said.

Sombah said many people are misinformed about DACA and Dreamers like him. "They say we get special treatment from the government," he said.

But his family has never gotten financial aid, he said. He can't even apply for federal college aid. "Everything came out of my own pocket, out of my savings," he said.

He and his parents have work authorizations that have to be renewed every two years, he said. They all pay taxes and pay into Social Security - a benefit they'll never be able to collect.

He never expected this to happen to his family. "I thought when we came here, it would be smooth sailing. We'd apply for asylum and we would be good. But it wasn't the case."

His parents have to check in with ICE on Monday. Sombah will be at work. "If anything happens, I don't think I'll have the heart to be there and to see things go down," he said.

But he's not giving up hope. "I was brought up believing in God and that miracles do happen," he said. "I feel like if I didn't have that to believe in, I probably would have gone crazy by now."

Sombah is a worship leader at two Somersworth churches, Bethel Church of God, an Indonesian church, and Next Level Church.

Lindsey Archer often leads services with Sombah at Next Level Church. She said he's devoted to his parents.

What's happening to his family is "heartbreaking," Archer said.

"He has a lot of hope; that's just who he is. And he has a lot of faith," she said. "But of course, you can just see his heart breaking."

Her church community has been praying for the family, she said.

Archer said there's a lot of ignorance about who the Dreamers are. "These are not numbers; these aren't figures," she said. "These are people who have families, who have connections, who have built lives here.

"And ripping that away is just un-human."

Has Sombah thought about leaving with his parents? It has crossed his mind, he said. "But you know what? I think this is where I belong."

And, he said, "My parents would want me to stay and have my future here."

His mother has begged him to marry his American girlfriend, so he can obtain legal status before DACA ends.

But he said, "I don't think that's right. I do love her, but I feel like I want to get married on our terms, when we are ready."

If he could speak with political leaders, Sombah would tell them "they really need to start working on immigration reform."

"And the first step for that would be to pass the Dream Act for us Dreamers. And maybe you can do something about our parents that are taxpayers. They're not criminals; they have clean records.

"Have some compassion. Have some mercy for them. Fight for them."

Instead, the federal government is sending the Sombahs home.

But Tim Sombah says for him, home is the United States. "I want to build a career here," he said. "I want to give back to the community."

He hopes that telling his story will somehow help keep his family together. "I feel like if I fight for this, and we win this, I would have accomplished something in life," he said. "It would be good to know that my voice was heard, that the American dream is real."

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