For decades, a group of Indonesian Christians lived as neighbors and worshipped as co-congregants at churches in central New Jersey. Many had fled anti-Christian, anti-Chinese violence in Indonesia in the late 1990s, seeking refuge and the freedom to practice their religion. Very few gained lawful immigration status in the United States, in part because conditions for Christians improved in Indonesia in the early 2000s. By the 2010s, however, the tide had turned again as Islamist hardliners gained sway in Indonesia. The Indonesian government was either complicit in or failed to control the resulting rash of church burnings and bombings, assaults on Christians, and prosecutions of Christians and members of other minority religions under the blasphemy and shari’a laws.
A minister at the Reformed Church of Highland Park turned to the firm for assistance on behalf of his large Indonesian congregation. We helped secure the agreement of the Department of Homeland Security not to pursue the deportation of Indonesian Christians in the region and to grant them work authorization in return for their agreement to come out of the shadows and keep regular monitoring appointments.
This fragile truce lasted until 2017, when the Department of Homeland Security began to detain and deport Indonesian Christians when they showed up for their monitoring appointments. After an especially alarming enforcement action in which Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested two fathers just after they dropped their daughters at school, the ACLU sued in federal court and won an injunction against further deportations until members of the community had had a chance to file motions to reopen their immigration proceedings and seek asylum.
The ACLU then turned to Lowenstein to draft model papers for the motions to reopen for members of this community. We did so, and agreed in addition to represent Harry Pangemanan and his wife, Mariyana Sunarto, lead plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit and longtime advocates for their community. Mr. Pangemanan and Ms. Sunarto would face extra risk if they were deported to Indonesia because of their outspoken support of the rights of Indonesian Christian asylum-seekers in the United States. The Indonesian government knows of our clients and views them, and others who advocate for asylum for Indonesian expatriates, as traitors.
In addition to their work for asylum seekers, both Mr. Pangemanan and Ms. Sunarto have volunteered extensively through the church to coordinate and participate in relief efforts for victims of natural disasters in the United States and around the world. We have moved to reopen their immigration cases so that they can apply for asylum and win the right to remain here with their two U.S. citizen daughters, ages 16 and 11. The motions are pending before the Board of Immigration Appeals.