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NH Indonesian community celebrates legal victory in deportation case

Union Leader Correspondent

November 28. 2017 8:59PM
Rev. Sandra Pontoh 

Indonesian community leaders on the Seacoast are celebrating a federal judge’s decision to block the deportation of 51 people who have lived in the state for decades.

“Everyone is happy,” Rev. Sandra Pontoh of the Indonesian United Church of Christ Maranatha in Madbury said Tuesday. “Everyone has responded by saying, ‘Thank God, our prayers have been answered,’”

She said the 51 fear religious persecution if returned to their home country; they now feel free to resume their daily activities.

Pontoh said the last six months have been particularly hard on the children of those facing deportation.

“They want to stay here. This is their country. They love their friends. Now, they know they will stay here,” Pontoh said.

The Indonesians are part of a community of about 2,000 in and around Dover.

Maggie Fogarty, co-director of the New Hampshire chapter of the American Friends Service Committee, said this fall that some Dover children started the school year not sure if they would be in the classroom the next week or not.

On Tuesday, Fogarty said the decision by Chief U.S. District Judge Patti Saris in Boston will give affected families a chance to get their affairs in order and speak with legal counsel before going before an immigration judge.

“(Saris) has secured for them some time so they can take up their immigration cases,” Fogarty said.

Meldy and Eva Lumangkun of Dover were hosting a dinner party Tuesday and could not talk about the ruling.

In October, the couple told Reuters that they were targeted for deportation.

The Lumangkuns were told to buy one-way tickets back to the country they fled years ago, according to Reuters.

“We are afraid to go home. We fear for the safety of our children,” Meldy Lumangkun said. “Here, our children can live safely.”

According to court paperwork, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement instituted a humanitarian program called Operation Indonesian Surrender in 2010, which allowed local residents to seek employment and subjected them to certain mandatory conditions.

This summer, community religious leaders were informed that program would end, and participants would be deported.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the law firm of Nixon Peabody went to federal court and worked to block the deportation. Vigils were held outside the federal building in Manchester.

On Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, again vowed to make every effort to prevent the deportations.

“New Hampshire should continue to be a sanctuary to the Indonesian community that fled religious persecution. Deporting these individuals will needlessly split families and communities, and put lives in danger” Shaheen said in a statement.

U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-NH, said: “Many of these individuals came to our country fleeing religious persecution, and they have worked, paid taxes and raised their families on the Seacoast. It is long past time that the Trump Administration drop its misguided efforts to prioritize the deportation of these families.”

Congresswomen Carol Shea-Porter and Annie Kuster also said they were pleased and encouraged by the decision Saris made.

Gov. Chris Sununu said the court decision is good news for New Hampshire.

“I am pleased that the court agrees that these cases deserve a closer look, and I will continue to advocate for a resolution that protects these individuals from religious persecution and allows them to remain in the United States,” Sununu said in a statement.

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