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Sculpture by Tania Bruguera.
Photo by Steve Weinik for Mural Arts Philadelphia.


Winning Protection from Religious Persecution

Longtime pro bono clients Harry Pangemanan and Yana Sunarto have won asylum at last. The couple began seeking the right to remain permanently in the United States close to 20 years ago.

Harry and Yana have resided in this country for decades and raised their two daughters here. They have long been leaders in the Indonesian Christian community. They helped found and lead an Indonesian Christian congregation in the late 1990s before joining the general congregation at the Reformed Church of Highland Park. That church has since become the centerpiece of their lives. Harry has twice taken sanctuary there to protect himself from threatened detention and deportation, in one case living in the church for nearly a year. The couple and their children attend services every week, sing in the choir, and cook weekly dinners in the church’s refugee/ asylee-run restaurant, the Global Grace Café. They are also anchors in the church’s community service programs. For example, Harry managed the church’s extensive relief efforts after Hurricane Sandy, leading to the family’s participation in disaster relief nationwide, and the couple provides support to more than 230 tenants with special needs living in federally supported housing in Central Jersey.

Harry and Yana are strong advocates for asylum for themselves and others in their position. Harry has spoken at dozens of events on the need for asylum for practicing Christians from Indonesia, and the couple agreed to serve as lead plaintiffs in Pangemanan v. Tsoukaris, a federal class action the ACLU filed in 2018 that succeeded in preventing the deportation of members of their community to give them time to seek asylum.

The need for protection has increased with each passing year in the past decade, as militant Islamist hardliners have gained power throughout Indonesia, resulting in intensifying persecution against Christians and other religious minorities. Indonesian Christians are now subject to widespread and severe violence and frequently find themselves with no place to worship as their churches are blocked, shut down, burned, and bombed. In May 2018, three Christian churches were destroyed and 15 people were killed in coordinated bombing attacks in Surabaya, where Yana used to live. And on Palm Sunday in 2021, two suicide bombers attacked Christian parishioners in Makassar, Harry’s hometown, injuring at least 19 churchgoers.

Lowenstein Sandler has worked with the ACLU-NJ and the Immigration Justice Campaign on behalf of this couple and other Indonesian Christian residents in Central Jersey since 2017. The firm drafted model papers for motions to reopen asylum applications for members of the community, making it easier for volunteer lawyers from around the state to take on clients. The firm also agreed to represent Harry and Yana in their motions to reopen, which the Board of Immigration Appeals granted in August 2021, and in their subsequent asylum applications, which the immigration court granted in October 2021. After a long struggle, Harry and Yana have won the right to remain safely in the United States with their daughters and to worship freely and openly with their coreligionists.

After a long struggle, Harry and Yana have won the right to remain safely in the United States with their daughters and to worship freely and openly with their coreligionists.

Winning Protection from Religious Persecution
Harry, Yana, and their family at the immigration court after asylum was granted