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Fate of New Hampshire Indonesians before U.S. judge Friday in Boston

October 20. 2017 9:42AM
Demonstrators hold an "Interfaith Prayer Vigil for Immigrant Justice" outside the federal building, where ethnic Chinese Christians who fled Indonesia after wide scale rioting decades ago and overstayed their visas in the U.S. must check-in with ICE, in Manchester, New Hampshire, U.S. on Oct. 13, 2017. (REUTERS/Brian Snyder/File Photo)

BOSTON (Reuters) - The case of 47 Indonesian Christians, who fled violence in that country two decades ago and now live illegally in New Hampshire, heads to Boston federal court on Friday, where a judge will weigh whether she can intervene in an immigration matter.

The group had been allowed to remain in the state under the terms of a 2012 deal with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials that required them to turn in their passports and present themselves for regular check-ins with federal officials.

That changed following U.S. President Donald Trump’s January executive order that all immigrants in the country illegally would be subject to deportation.

Beginning in August, members of the group who showed up for ICE check-ins were told to prepare to leave the United States. That was in keeping with Trump’s campaign promise to deport millions of illegal immigrants, a move he said would improve security and make it easier for U.S. citizens to find jobs.

Advocates for the Indonesians late last month sued ICE to stop the deportations, and Chief U.S. District Judge Patti Saris ordered a temporary halt to the proceedings while she determined whether she had jurisdiction. U.S. immigration matters are normally handled by the Executive Office for Immigration review, part of the executive branch of the federal government.

At Friday’s hearings, lawyers for the immigrants and ICE are due to present evidence on who has jurisdiction.

The people covered by the agreement entered the United States legally but overstayed visas and failed to seek asylum on time. They are ethnic Chinese Christians who say they fear they would face discrimination or violence if they return to the world’s largest majority-Muslim country.

ICE officials say they have always had the authority to deport the Indonesians covered by the agreement, which was only intended to give them additional time to persuade immigration judges to allow them to stay in the country.

“Once these legal options and reviews are exhausted, ICE must carry out the judge’s order in the absence of any other mitigating factors,” ICE spokesman Shawn Neudauer said in a statement.

The plight of the Indonesians has drawn support for New Hampshire’s Democratic congressional delegation, including U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen.

“The community where they live is where I live and it has been very supportive,” Shaheen said in a recent interview. “Our immigrant population has been important to America in terms of bringing new ideas and new energy.”

Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Bernadette Baum

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