Metro

Indonesians threatened with deportation after years living in New Hampshire

Deetje Patty (left) is in danger of deportation. With her is her daughter Windi Tavares, who is a citizen.
Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff
Deetje Patty (left) is in danger of deportation. With her is her daughter Windi Tavares, who is a citizen.

DOVER, N.H. — Deetje Patty said she fled Indonesia to escape religious persecution 21 years ago, settling in this small city, where she and her husband found jobs, raised three children, and attended church in safety.

But what had been a comforting refuge is now a place of broken trust and bewildering uncertainty.

“I just go to work, I just go to church, I don’t know what happened,” said Patty, 56, a Christian who said she was threatened with death in Muslim-majority Indonesia because of her faith.

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Patty and at least 68 other Indonesian immigrants, many of whom have lived in New Hampshire for more than a decade, suddenly find themselves at risk of being deported under President Trump’s policies.

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Like many of the immigrants, Patty overstayed a tourist visa and later missed the deadline to apply for asylum — simply because she was unaware of the process, she said.

For years, however, US immigration authorities allowed Patty and other undocumented but law-abiding Indonesians to remain and work in New Hampshire, provided they checked in regularly.

That arrangement has collapsed. During a routine meeting at the Manchester office in September, immigration officials ordered Patty and her husband to return in less than a month with one-way tickets to Indonesia, she said.

Since then, an injunction issued in federal court in Boston has temporarily halted the deportation of Indonesians from New Hampshire, as part of a lawsuit filed by Patty and others. But Patty, who works in a hotel laundry, remains ridden by anxiety.

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“Please, President Trump, please,” Patty said in the small apartment where her daughter lives. “Don’t send me home. I have family here.”

Patty also has a church where she can worship freely and safely, and her husband works in a warehouse. They find comfort among a robust community of about 1,500 Indonesians who have settled in the state’s Seacoast region since the 1990s, when religious and ethnic violence roiled their homeland.

“They don’t have anything to go back to,” said the Rev. Sandra Pontoh, pastor of the Maranatha Indonesian United Church of Christ in nearby Madbury.

Patty and other Indonesians filed suit in US District Court in an effort to reopen their cases. Chief Judge Patti Saris, who issued the temporary injunction in September, asked federal lawyers on Oct. 20 why the government’s agreement with the Indonesians had fallen apart.

She received a blunt and simple answer: Trump’s executive orders on immigration.

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Those orders, issued in January, upended the Obama administration’s priorities for deportation, which had focused on undocumented immigrants convicted of serious crimes. Since January, the priorities have expanded dramatically and placed more of the undocumented at risk.

‘I just go to work, I just go to church, I don’t know what happened.’

Deetje Patty, who has been ordered to return to the country she fled after religious intolerance 

Federal immigration officials in New Hampshire told Saris that they did not receive explicit instructions on how to enforce the executive orders. Direction was lacking, but implementation is not. The result has stunned Indonesians who thought they were playing by the rules.

“We’re the low-hanging fruit,” said Timothy Sombah, a 29-year-old from Somersworth who arrived in New Hampshire 14 years ago. “We have been abiding by the law and doing what we’ve been supposed to do.”

“Please, President Trump, please,” Patty said. “Don’t send me home. I have family here.”
Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff
“Please, President Trump, please,” Patty said. “Don’t send me home. I have family here.”

For now, Sombah is protected by the DACA program, also known as Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals. Begun under the Obama administration, the program temporarily shields from deportation the children of undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as minors.

Sombah’s parents, not so fortunate, were among the first Indonesians to be told to return home, he said.

“This has taken a mental toll on me,” said Sombah, who works as a designer and draftsman for a cable company.

One Indonesian, Terry Rombot of Dover, was arrested in August by federal authorities for refusing to comply with a 2006 order to leave the country. He is being held by immigration officials at the Bristol County House of Correction in Dartmouth, Mass., according to federal authorities.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials would not comment further on any of the pending Indonesian cases, including Rombot’s.

The threat of dozens of deportations has drawn bipartisan support for the Indonesians. The state’s two Democratic senators, Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan, have been joined by Republican Governor Chris Sununu in urging that their cases be reviewed. US Representative Carol Shea-Porter, a Democrat, also has joined the fight.

“It’s not in our interest to send back people who have been working hard and been part of our Seacoast community to a country where they really no longer have a home and almost certainly will be subject to religious persecution,” Shaheen said.

The senator said she has spoken on their behalf to the acting directors of the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, as well as the president’s deputy national security adviser. “They all tell me the president issued his executive order, and they have no choice,” Shaheen said.

However, the senator argued that immigration officials can waive deportations on humanitarian grounds. In this case, she said, the Indonesians have been targeted for removal by federal officials “because it’s easy.”

ICE “knows where they are, they know how to reach them, and they can send them back and say, ‘Look how many people we’ve deported,’ ” said Shaheen, who helped negotiate a deal in 2012 that allowed Indonesians to stay under certain conditions.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing the Indonesians in federal court, along with the Boston firm Nixon Peabody, is arguing that judicial action is urgently needed to delay deportation.

“We are simply asking for a few months so that individuals can pursue relief in the immigration courts,” ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt said outside the hearing. “The government is saying that it can remove them right away and effectively make it almost impossible to pursue relief.”

If the Indonesians are forced to return, Gelernt said, “they would be subjected to the very persecution and torture they are trying to escape.”

For now, Patty waits nervously while Saris decides whether US District Court has jurisdiction in the case. “I am scared for her,” said Patty’s daughter, Windi Tavares, a US citizen with two children.

One of Patty’s sons has been deported, but Tavares and another son are determined to call the United States home.

“Why don’t I go? Because I have family here,” Patty said. “It is good here. That’s why I have come.”

Brian MacQuarrie can be reached at brian.macquarrie@globe.com.