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Indonesians living in Dover slated to be deported

New Hampshire Union Leader

August 17. 2017 8:56PM

Twenty-three Indonesians living in the Dover area for the last two decades have been slated for deportation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and as many as 30 more expect the same fate in the coming months, a community leader said this week.

On Aug. 1, the Manchester ICE office told 22 Indonesians to return on Sept. 5 with airplane tickets or face detention; one was placed into ICE detention, said the Rev. Sandra Pontoh, whose Madbury-based Indonesian United Church of Christ Marantha ministers to Indonesians.

All were unauthorized immigrants who had visited the Manchester ICE office for their regular check-in meeting.

Many must now decide whether to return to their native country alone or with their spouses and American-born children, some totally unfamiliar with the islands nation, Pontoh said.

“It’s hard for them. They don’t know what they’re going to do,” she said.

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

U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., said 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.

In a statement, an ICE official said that President Trump has made clear that ICE will no longer exempt categories of removable aliens from arrest, detention and removal.

“All of those individuals recently notified are currently 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 and ordered them removed,” said Liz Johnson, assistant director of the ICE Office of Public Affairs. “Once ... legal options and reviews are exhausted, ICE must carry out the judge’s order in the absence of any other mitigating factors.”

ICE said its Boston field office used prosecutorial discretion seven years ago to keep the Indonesians in the United States. People in such cases typically get one to two years to get affairs in order, ICE said.

Each time that deportations were extended, ICE clarified that the extension did not mean that their cases would be reopened, the agency said.

An activist in immigration issues said the Indonesians had not been a priority for ICE.

Maggie Fogarty, co-director of the American Friends Service Committee, said she fears that unauthorized immigrants who have been checking in with ICE on a regular basis are being targeted for deportation.

“What it looks like to us is we’re seeing the beginning of a wave of mass deportations in New Hampshire,” Fogarty said. Earlier this month, a Brazilian couple in Manchester was deported.

Pontoh said about 69 unauthorized Indonesian immigrants live in the Dover area. None have criminal records, and most work in manufacturing plants in the Seacoast area. Some own their own homes, and when spouses and children are counted, the number of people directly affected by deportations grows to about 150, she said.

The acting ICE director said it is unfair to vilify ICE for breaking up families.

“When someone enters this country illegally, or someone overstays their visa, they know they’re in this country illegally. If they take it upon themselves to have a child in this country and becomes a U.S. citizen by birth, he put his family in that position, not ICE, not Border Patrol,” said Acting Director Tom Homan.

About 1,500 Indonesians live in the greater Dover area. A community celebration, scheduled for Saturday at the UCC church in Madbury, will now turn into a support and strategy session.

In her statement, Shaheen said the Indonesians have become an integral part of the Seacoast and made valuable contributions to the Granite State culture and economy.

“These are people who have learned our language, do not have criminal backgrounds, and pose no national security risk,” she said. “We are a nation of immigrants and should remain welcoming to all nations and faiths, particularly those who are fleeing violence and oppression. These deportations run counter to our nation’s values.”

Pontoh said the Indonesian immigrants moved to New Hampshire in the late 1990s to escape killings and church burnings. They applied for asylum, but they either lacked documents or had missed deadlines.

Pontoh said another 20 to 30 have a check-in scheduled for next month and could face an order to obtain an airplane ticket.

She said about six people with connections to the Dover area live in Maine or Massachusetts, and report to ICE offices in those states.

“It seems to me ICE in Manchester is stricter than the other ICE offices in New England,” she said.

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