NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — A group of Indonesian Christians and their supporters called Tuesday for the passage of a federal law they say would give them a path to protection from religious persecution in their homeland and a way to prevent parents from being separated from their American-born children.
Group members voiced their support for the bill, which was introduced last week in the House of Representatives. It would benefit hundreds of Indonesians, who fled to the United States but waited too long to file claims for asylum, by allowing them to reapply.
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“Dear Mr. President Obama, I love this country, I love my church — the Reformed Church of Highland Park. Let our family together stay in here together,” one woman pleaded.
Mariyana Sunarto said the legislation would allow her to remain with her American-born daughters who are 9 and 5 years old.
“I will not take them back to Indonesia,” she said as she stood on the steps of New York City Hall with other members of her church, many holding up photographs of churches in Indonesia in flames. “They have a strong Christian faith. They will not be quiet. — Jakarta is too dangerous for the faithful Christians.”
More than 70 Indonesian immigrants in New Jersey have received deportation warning letters from the Department of Homeland Security in recent months or have been told to report to local ICE offices and bring a one-way ticket to Indonesia with them, said the Rev. Seth Kaper-Dale of The Reformed Church of Highland Park, N.J. More than 100 Indonesians in New Hampshire have received similar warnings, and more than 20 in the New York City area are concerned that they are next on the list, he said.
Many Indonesian Christians came to the U.S. in the late 1990s, but made the mistake of waiting for more than a year to apply for asylum, Kaper-Dale said. When they eventually applied, most were denied only because they had missed the deadline. It is that group that is targeted by the bill, which is co-sponsored by New York Rep. Carolyn Maloney and New Jersey Rep. Frank Pallone Jr.
Kaper-Dale also called for passage of H.R. 3590.
“We’re here to encourage the Congress of these United States to do everything in its power to get behind the Indonesian Family Justice Act with great gusto,” he said.
Many have been benefiting from a conditional agreement with U.S. immigration authorities that has allowed them to live and work legally in the country for years. A spokesman with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement did not immediately return messages seeking comment.
Without intervention, some families will leave their American-born children with relatives or in the care of the state rather than take them to Indonesia, Kaper-Dale said.
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