Christian Indonesians in New Jersey Leave Church's Sanctuary
For much of the past year, Pangemanan has been unable to accomplish such an ordinary act. He and several other Indonesian Christians have been living within the sanctuary of their central New Jersey church because they feared immediate deportation.
As a follow-up to our story in late December, where we examined a group of eight people considered by their pastor to be at the greatest risk for deportation, ABC News reports a change in the federal government's position on their individual cases.
Without any fanfare early on Valentine's Day evening, Pangemanan and the others finally left the safety of the Reformed Church of Highland Park for the comfort and familiarity of their homes.
Pangemanan celebrated the holiday with his wife, Yana, who has also been at risk for arrest and removal from the United States, and his two American-born children. After a celebratory supper, the parents watched as their daughters opened up Valentine's Day cards from their classmates and friends.
RELATED: Christian Indonesians Live In NJ Church's Sanctuary to Avoid Deportation
This familial celebration was due to the efforts of the pastor, Rev. Seth Kaper-Dale. For more than a decade, Kaper-Dale has worked to help the Indonesian members of his congregation deal with their myriad of complex immigration legal issues and other needs.
Kaper-Dale's specific focus was to help the eight people he thought were most in danger of deportation, which include Harry and Yana Pangemanan. He won't go into specifics about what was discussed in that meeting except to say that, "ICE treated us with the utmost respect and [they promised] to speak with the Newark office." After a follow-up conference call on Thursday, which included a senior immigration official based in New Jersey, it was determined the Indonesians no longer needed to live in sanctuary.
In a statement to ABC News, ICE said, "Based on specific circumstances of their cases, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has placed the eight individuals on orders of supervision (OSUP) – with reporting requirements – at this time. OSUP allows these eight individuals to remain in the community as opposed to detention."
Kaper-Dale expressed his gratitude for the government's decision in an email to his church's congregants and friends. "We have been blessed today that ICE in Washington and in Newark has heard our deep concerns for our Indonesian brothers and sisters. Let us quietly--and with a deep sense of peace--thank our God."
This reprieve will allow the Pangemanans the opportunity to work with their attorneys and others to try to avoid deportation. Tomorrow, Kaper-Dale will assist them with filing some initial paperwork.
There are at least 3,000 other Christian Indonesians in the United States with serious immigration concerns.
Despite a drive for comprehensive immigration reform in Congress, there are now new bills filed in the Senate and House of Representatives, S-295 and HR-665, that would, "allow certain Indonesian citizens to file a motion to reopen their asylum claims."
Kaper-Dale tells ABC News, "We are pushing hard for the both comprehensive and piecemeal immigration legislation. What we want is for comprehensive legislation to include benefits for the noncriminal immigrants who face immediate deportation."
Pangemanan says, "It's a big relief for us, I feel very blessed to be at home with my family, it's a very big relief in my life." He says that the time he now can spend with his family outside of the church is precious—such as walking his daughter to school this morning. "Despite the bitter cold, this gave me great joy."