Judge rules that New Hampshire Indonesians can appeal to remain in US

In this Friday, Dec. 1, 2017 photo, Poppy Sombah, left, and Freddy Sombah listen to an Indonesian community leader at their home in Somersworth, N.H. The couple fled Indonesia to escape harassment from their Muslim neighbors following Poppy's conversion to Christianity after marrying. After word spread earlier this year that the Indonesian community in New Hampshire faced deportation they receive unexpected support from Republican Gov. Chris Sununu. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
Associated Press/Robert F. Bukaty
Poppy Sombah, left, and Freddy Sombah listen to an Indonesian community leader at their home in Somersworth, N.H. in December 2017.

A federal judge in Boston on Thursday blocked immigration authorities from deporting 50 Indonesian Christians living in New Hampshire until they are given a chance to reopen their cases.

US District Judge Patti B. Saris ruled the immigrants showed “unrebutted evidence” that they would face “the threat of persecution or torture” if sent back to Muslim-majority Indonesia.

They will be allowed to submit motions to reopen their cases in immigration court, remain in the country until their claims are resolved, or, if rejected, file an appeal with the First Circuit Court of Appeals, according to the ruling.


The Trump administration had urged that they be returned to Indonesia, arguing the court did not have jurisdiction and that they did not prove they would be endangered in their homeland.

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A spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement did not have any immediate comment Thursday night.

An attorney for the Indonesians said the group is one of several immigrant groups targeted by federal authorities, even though they have lived for many years in the United States, cooperated with immigration officials, and generated no criminal records.

“What’s happening around the country is that the Trump administration is going after groups like the Indonesian Christians, the Iraqi Christians, like Somalis who have been living in the country for years, and not only trying to remove them but doing so abruptly,” said Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the American Civil Liberty Union’s Immigrants’ Rights Project.

The preliminary injunction granted by Saris follows decisions regarding Cambodians in Los Angeles, Somalis in Miami, and Iraqis in Detroit that rejected the government’s claims that federal courts lack authority to stay deportations, Gelernt said.


Saris had issued an order in September temporarily halting the Indonesians’ deportations and last month compared their plight as religious minorities in Indonesia to what Jews fleeing Nazi Germany faced.

Under a program begun in 2010, the New Hampshire Indonesians were invited by Immigration and Customs Enforcement to come “out of the shadows,” given temporary stays of removal, and allowed to work in this country. But last summer, ICE told the Indonesians that program was ending, and that they had 60 days to leave the United States.

“As we argued in court, this was a particularly problematic set of circumstances, where ICE invited these individuals to participate in this program,” Ronaldo Rauseo-Ricupero, one of the Indonesians’ attorneys, said in a phone interview Thursday evening.

“And its subsequent actions to try to remove them prior to their opportunity to bring their claims before the immigration court led to a particularly stark situation that called for relief,” Rauseo-Ricupero continued.

The Rev. Sandra Pontoh, pastor of the Maranatha Indonesian United Church of Christ in Madbury, N.H., said several immigrants in the case are parishioners there.


“Most of them, they’ve been living here for almost two decades,” Pontoh said. “And they are hardworking people; they work Monday through Friday, and even Saturday, and they go to church on Sunday.”

Many had asked her to pray with them that they would prevail in court.

“I’m very thankful right now,” Pontoh said, “and we are going to keep praying because that’s the only thing we can do: pray and pray, and hope that God will let my friends stay here.”

Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen, released a statement Thursday evening praising the judge’s decision.

“These are men and women who fled persecution and came to the United States to find a safe haven,” Shaheen said, “where they learned our language, found employment and became contributing members of our community.”

Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.