HIGHLAND PARK, NJ - Two Indonesian immigrants seeking sanctuary in the Reformed Church of Highland Park say several of their passports were stolen during a pair of break-ins this past weekend.
“This does not make sense,” said Arthur Jemmy of Edison, one of the residents whose apartment was broken into. The passports of Arthur and his wife, Sofia, were taken. They were both issued by Indonesia.
Harry Pangemanan, whose house on Friday evening was found ransacked and vandalized, reported that the Indonesian passports of his wife and U.S. citizen daughter were also taken.
Rev. Seth Kaper-Dale, who heads the church, said he first heard about the stolen passports Thursday morning, just a week after Pangemanan took sanctuary in the church.
Kaper-Dale, an immigrants rights activists, has been offering sanctuary for Jemmy, Pangemanan and a third man, Yohanes Tasik of Woodbridge.
All three men have final deportation orders from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents. They have said that as Christians, they fear religious persecution should they be sent back to the Muslim-majority country.'
Jemmy had been in the church since October 2017, Tasik since mid-January and Pangemanan since Jan. 25. Pangemanan’s arrival at the church prompted visits of support from Congressman Frank Pallone, Gov. Phil Murphy and other elected officials.
On the day that ICE agents tried, unsuccessfully, to detain Pangemanan, they managed to nab two others: Gunawan Liem of Franklin Park and Roby Sanger of Metuchen
The break-in’s are believed to have happened within 24 hours.
Kaper-Dale, after hearing the reports that the passports were stolen, headed to both men’s places of residence to confirm the news.
“A whole pile of passports were still there, all of the ones who are expired,” Kaper-Dale said. “But the two passports from the family that were valid travel documents, were gone.”
Kaper-Dale noted that whoever broke into the Edison apartment and Highland Park house would had to have known to look for valid travel documents and what they looked like.
“It seems way more sinister, at least to me,” Kaper-Dale said.
The pastor, during a Thursday afternoon press conference, doubled-down on his claim that federal immigration officials conducted the break-ins as some type of warrantless raid.
“Unless the criminals who went in, knew exactly to go for unexpired travel documents, the people who went in that house, they were trained to look for unexpired travel documents, and I would suspect that those are people who are somehow connected with the knowledge that such a thing would be helpful in the hands of ICE,” Kaper-Dale said.
A spokesperson for ICE said the reverends' allegations were ‘patently false.”
“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,” said Jennifer D. Elzea, a press secretary for ICE.
Kaper-Dale suggested that if the passports managed to find their way to ICE, it would massively expedite the process of removing Jemmy and Pangemanan from the country.
“In order for ICE to send someone away, they need a travel document, so often when they detain someone, they request that document from the consulate and then once they get that document, they can send that person away,” Kaper-Dale explained.
The reverend added: “But it’s a lot faster if you break into the house and steal the valid travel document so that once you detain someone, you can send them away immediately.”
Arthur admitted he was unsettled by the thought that his passport had fallen into the hands of federal immigration agents.
ICE officials said they didn't have any passports of the two men.
But in the meantime, the three Indonesian men plan to stay put in the sanctuary, however long that could be.
Earlier on Thursday, several dozen Highland Park and New Brunswick residents packed into one of the main lounges for a planning meeting of the Detention and Immigration Response to Emergency Team (DIRE), on how to help the three men and prevent similar ICE arrests from happening.
A few days earlier, dozens of community activists gathered in front of the Reformed Church for a vigil to show solidarity for the three men.
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.