Christian Indonesians Live In NJ Church's Sanctuary to Avoid Deportation


Michelle Brané, who heads the Migrant Rights and Justice program at the Women's Refugee Commission in Washington, D.C., is outspoken on ERO's deportation powers.

"There was a time in the U.S. when a judge had the authority to use discretion regarding removal, based on consequences that such a removal would have on a U.S. citizen child," she told ABC News. "That authority really has been limited since 1996 through legislation that really severely limits judges' discretion" in cases like these.

One of Kaper-Dale's priorities has been to get as many PDs as possible for his congregants and those of six other central New Jersey churches. He's had successes and failures.

By working with ERO, the White House and some legislators, the pastor has been able to secure 55 PDs in 2012. These church members' deportation stays allow them time to re-file asylum claims and take whatever other steps are necessary to try to stay in this country.

It's a complex legal fight that has gone on since just after the Sept. 11 attacks. Men, not women, from some primarily Muslim nations including Indonesia, who were not U.S. citizens, had to register in the now defunct National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS).

Kaper-Dale says that not all of the undocumented men in his congregation registered. Many who did were deported. In one night in 2006, ERO agents rounded up almost three dozen such men who were no longer legally in the country. He maintains that NSEERS destroyed families, "Because it targeted only men, it stripped this community of fathers."

Of the eight facing immediate deportation, six are men. All complied with NSEERS, and then immediately filed for asylum. Each case was denied due to federal law. Anyone seeking asylum must file for it within one year of their most recent entry into the United States.

Kaper-Dale wants to know what makes these remaining eight people any different than the 55 granted PDs earlier this year. He says none have any criminal record. All have extremely similar backgrounds to the ones that have stays. They have strong family ties to this country, most have children who are U.S. citizens.

He maintains that Indonesia's Christians remain persecuted in that country. Kaper-Dale cites the State Department's International Religious Freedom Report for 2011. While the Indonesian government officially recognizes Protestantism and Catholicism, and its constitution protects religious freedom, the report states, "The government failed to prevent attacks and combat discrimination against religious groups by nonstate actors. In some case it failed to hold the perpetrators of violence accountable."

His congregants echo these findings, and hear from relatives in their homeland of Christian churches still being burned in various islands and of threats and attacks against their loved ones.

Kaper-Dale says that ERO has deported 15 members of the New Jersey congregations so far this year. He fears what will happen to those living in sanctuary and the other three still at great risk.

"One guy has been a homeless undocumented worker in the land of his birth ever since he was deported and was not given a government ID," he says. "He's been gone four years... stays with friends and relatives."

The deported man's wife and two children remain here.

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