HIGHLAND PARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) – Undocumented immigrants staying in sanctuary at a church in New Jersey claim their homes are being ransacked in their absence.
“Whomever did this one, you did a pretty good job of destroying American life,” Harry Pangemanan told WCBS 880’s Ethan Harp.
Pangemanan’s family lives in a Highland Park house that he can’t return to without risking arrest or deportation. But he claims someone went inside – probably Friday – tossed things around and may have taken some cash.
“Now my oldest daughter said to me last night, ‘I don’t have any more safe space for myself,’” he said.
Another man in sanctuary said it happened at his place in Edison, too. Video taken by a neighbor appears to show his air conditioner was ripped out.
Reverend Seth Kaper-Dale has been caring for the immigrants. When asked whether U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforecement agents could be going into the homes with a warrant, he told Harp, “I’m beginning to feel like we live in a Gestapo state, so who knows.”
An ICE spokesperson denied its agents would intentionally damage property.
“If true, these reports of vandalism are unfortunate; however, to suggest that ICE law enforcement officers were involved in such an incident is patently false. ICE law enforcement officers carry out their sworn duties daily with the utmost professionalism, in accordance with their training. To suggest that they would cause intentional harm to property is irresponsible and spreads undue fear in the community which this individual claims to support,” she said in a statement to WCBS 880.
New Jersey’s attorney general wrote to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen Friday expressing concerns over what he called the “deeply upsetting” arrest of two Indonesian parents after they dropped their children at school.
Officers arrested Gunawan Liem and Roby Sanger on Thursday. Attorney General Gurbir Grewal wrote that school areas are exempt from immigration actions under what he called longstanding immigration policy.
“Schools are deemed to be sensitive locations under the policy,” Grewal wrote. “Here, the fact that ICE arrested two parents as they were driving away from their children’s school is deeply upsetting. I am not aware of any exigent or unique circumstances here that would justify such a departure from ICE’s settled policy on sensitive locations.”
The arrests came on the same day another Indonesian national who had recently received an award for helping rebuild hundreds of homes in New Jersey after Superstorm Sandy was targeted.
At a news conference Friday, Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy expressed support for Pangemanan and others targeted by immigration officials.
“We have to remind ourselves that they were escaping religious persecution. They’re Christians who came from Indonesia,” Murphy said. “So they didn’t necessarily come here for economic opportunity. They’re coming basically because they’re being marginalized and persecuted. America used to be — and, god willing, will be again — the beacon and have our arms open to folks like that around the world.”
A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman didn’t immediately return a message seeking comment Friday. On Thursday, ICE said the actions in New Jersey were routine and weren’t based on religion, ethnicity, gender or race.
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)