Religions and Spirituality

Fleeing Indonesia, Edison Couple Take Refuge in Highland Park

Arthur Jemmy, one of the two refugees, at his room in the Reformed Church of Highland Park. Credits: Daniel J. Munoz

HIGHLAND PARK, NJ - Two Indonesian immigrants are taking refuge in the Reformed Church of Highland Park, amidst worries they could be deported and sent back to Indonesia.

Arthur Jemmy and Silfia Tobing, both of Edison and both unauthorized immigrants, fled Indonesia as Christians, fearing persecution in their own country.

Jemmy received a letter on Thursday from Immigrations and Custom Enforcement (ICE), ordering him to report to a meeting in Newark on Tuesday, Oct. 10, said Seth Kaper-Dale, a pastor at the Reformed Church in Highland Park who is running for governor.

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Jemmy's wife, Tobing, was not ordered to attend, but fearing deportation if her husband attended, the two skipped the meeting and instead sought sanctuary in the church.

The letter indicated that Jemmy would be classified as a fugitive if he didn’t show up for the ICE meeting.

“It just scared me when I hear the word ‘fugitive,’ because I’m not a criminal,” Jemmy said.

Jemmy and Tobing said that their other option would be to stay in hiding, which they worried would result in them living in constant fear.

Deportation is not an option, they said. In April 2015, Jemmy fell down a 25-foot drop from a forklift while working at a warehouse, causing long-term back injuries.

During his medical recovery, Jemmy has since depended on a combination of hospitalizations, physical therapy and medication, said Kaper-Dale, and still have troubles with his back and short-term memory, and is unable to drive or carry any sort of heavy object.

Access to that kind of treatment would be very difficult, Kaper-Dale said, be it in ICE custody or Indonesia.

“It’s not easy for me because I know the beds over there are very cold and my back cannot deal with it,” Jemmy said, referring to the ICE detention center in Elizabeth, adding hospital care in Indonesia would require payment up front.

While in the church, Jemmy would have access to visits from doctors, something which has been arranged for other immigrants who’ve sought refuge.

Jemmy was detained for three weeks in 2009 over his lack of legal status, something he said he “can’t go through again.”

The church is offering sanctuary to the two “with the support and collaboration of Interfaith community group DIRE (Deportation and Immigration Response Equipo)," Kaper-Dale said in a statement.

“Sanctuary is a time-honored tradition of faith communities,” Kaper-Dale said, “It is not the practice of ICE to enter sacred spaces. It is our prayer that President Trump will advise ICE to stay away from the church.”

Since Trump’s January 25 executive order marking all undocumented immigrants as priority for removal, ICE agents have descended into faith-based places  Middlesex County.

Seven Indonesian Christians had already been deported after they were detained at ICE meetings in Newark, Kaper-Dale said, rather than receive a two-year extension on their stay in the country, as has been the case for years.

Another four immigrants had ankle monitors and were given one month to leave the country, Kaper-Dale said.

Church officials are currently working with federal lawmakers, such as Democrat Congressman Frank Pallone, who represents New Brunswick, over a bill that would allow Indonesians fleeing persecution to apply for asylum.

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