State AG Criticizes ICE Detention of 2 Middlesex Men, Attempted Arrest of Another

Elected officials and community activists at the Reformed Church of Highland Park on Jan. 25. Credits: Daniel J. Munoz

TRENTON, NJ - State attorney general Gurbir Grewal is questioning a move by federal immigration agents yesterday to detain two Middlesex County residents as they were dropping their kids off at school.

Grewal, in his letter to Kirstjen Nielsen, US Secretary of Homeland Security, said he had “serious concerns” about the feds going after undocumented immigrants at “sensitive locations,” that being schools, courthouses and places of worship.

“Here, the fact that ICE arrested two parents as they were driving away from their children's school is deeply upsetting,” Grewal wrote in his letter, dated Jan. 25. “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.”

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On Jan. 25, federal ICE agents (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detained Gunawan Liem of Franklin Park and Roby Sanger of Metuchen just after they dropped their kids off at school.

The agents had staked out in front of the school when they arrested the two, who are currently being held at the Essex County jail.

ICE agents attempted to detain a third man, Harry Pangemanan, but he was able to take refuge in the Reformed Church of Highland Park.

Pangemanan is one of three Indonesian Christians taking refuge in the church, according to Rev. Seth Kaper-Dale, who heads the church. Kaper-Dale also ran an unsuccessful gubernatorial camping in 2017 under the Green Party. 

Another Indonesian nation, Yohanes Tasik of Avenel, has been in the church for 11 days, while the third, Arthur Jemmy of Edison, has resided in the church since October. The three are all Christians from the Muslim-majority country, who fled Indonesia to escape religious persecution.

All three have orders in removal, but under the Obama administration were issued temporary stays of removal as long as they periodically checked in with feds.

Since Donald Trump took office in January 2017, many immigrants would do their periodic check-in, only to be detained and sent back to their country of origin.

With Pangemanan, ICE agents staked outside his house and attempted to detain him as he was about to drop his daughter off at school.

Pangemanan had, just the week before, been awarded Highland Park’s 2018 MLK Humanitarian Award because of his work organizing over 3,000 volunteers to rebuild 200 homes destroyed in the wake of Superstorm Sandy.

He called his pastor, Kaper-Dale, who quickly made his way over to Pangemanan’s house, picked him up and drove him to the church.

That same day, different elected officials rush to the three men’s defense.

Gov. Phil Murphy, who was at Cranbury for a separate occasion that day, took a detour to the Highland Park church to show his support for all three men.

At the church, Murphy told reporters, church members and local residents and the three refugees that he’d be in touch with Senators Cory Booker and Robert Menendez, as well as the state’s Congressional delegation,

Congressman Frank Pallone, who spent several hours at the church, later issued a letter to John Tsoukaris, a field director for ICE, asking the feds to release the two men they detained and back off the three taking refuge in the church.

Grewal, in the letter, also took issue of ICE agents waiting outside courthouses to detain undocumented immigrants, saying they would “compromise the integrity of New Jersey’s justice system.”

“Immigration enforcement actions at state facilities would substantially interfere with the proper functioning of state government services, ranging from critical support provided to children, families, workers, and veterans everyday,” Grewarl wrote. “New Jersey residents should feel confident that they can interact with their state government without the risk of an undue intrusion from federal immigration agent.”

That issue has come up in the New Jersey Supreme Court, where Chief Justice Stuart Rabner wrote to homeland security urging agents to stop arresting undocumented immigrants outside of courthouses.

TAPinto New Brunswick is partnering with ProPublica to track hate crimes in the region. The partnership is part of a nationwide project to track and report bias incidents across the country.

Editor Daniel J. Munoz,

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