HomeSoutheast Asian AmericanMLK Humanitarian Award Winner Facing Deportation

MLK Humanitarian Award Winner Facing Deportation


Harry Pangemann
Harry Pangemann tries to hold back tears of joy after being presented the MLK Humanitarian Award last week

Views from the Edge

Last week Harry Pangemann was given Highland Park’s 2018 MLK Humanitarian Award for organizing 3,000 volunteers to rebuild more than 200 homes damaged in the wake of Superstorm Sandy. Today, Pangemann lives in fear of being deported.

Two members of the Indonesian community in Highland Park, New Jersey, Gunawan Liem, of Franklin Park, and Roby Sanger, of Metuchen, were arrested yesterday by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents as the Indonesian parents were dropping their children off at school.

Pangemann would have been the third arrest if he hadn’t spotted a suspicious car parked outside his house as he backed his car down the driveway. When he saw the car, he put the car back in the garage, and ran into the house. He told his daughter to walk to school and he called his pastor.

“He had this eyes open because of all this stuff,” said the Rev. Seth Kaper-Dale, who heads the Second Reformed Church in Highland Park, where Pangemanan is employed as a minister.

Upon hearing of the ICE action Thursday, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy rushed to the church.

“We obviously have to put our heads together and figure this out,” Murphy told the crowd of supporters who had gathered at the church.

“It’s not our country, it’s not our values, it’s not the country you came to to escape persecution,” he later said.

Pangemann  is now seeking sanctuary at the church, hoping that ICE respects the historical practice of not making immigration arrests at a house of worship. He joins three other Indonesian Christians who live at the church. All are in the U.S. as refugees from religious persecution in Muslim-dominated Indonesia.

At least seven local Indonesians without legal status have been deported over the past year. Four others returned to Indonesia voluntarily for fear of being detained. Liem, Sanger and another Indonesian Christian have been detained and remain in ICE custody, Kaper-Dale said.

Under the Obama administration, the law-abiding Indonesian refugees were low priority for deportation, focusing only on those who had committed crimes. But that policy changed after Trump issued an executive order shortly after he took office that makes all unauthorized immigrants, no matter their situation, priority for deportation.

The New Jersey Indonesians are among about 2,000 Chinese/Indonesian Christians who fled to New Hampshire to escape rioting in Southeast Asia’s biggest economy that killed about 1,000 people in 1998 at the height of Asia’s financial crisis.

The community of Indonesian Christians fled religious and ethnic persecution from Indonesia, a Muslim-majority nation, and could have qualified for asylum when they first arrived. But the rules surrounding asylum petitions required that asylum candidates apply within a year of entering the U.S. Many local Indonesians said they were not aware of the requirement or they couldn’t afford the fee.
The Second Reformed Church acted as a sanctuary in 2012 when several Indonesians feared deportation. ICE later changed their priorities.

The three Indonesians who are at the church now include Arthur Jemmy and Silfia Tobing, an Indonesian couple who feared deportation have been at the church since October.

The other resident, Yohanes Tasik, has been living in the church for since Jan. 12. “I’m not a criminal here,” said Tasik, 54. “I’m always working. I pay taxes.”

Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr., who came to the church with the governor, said the Indonesians who were targeted had cooperated with federal officials since they came to the United States.

“They are valuable members of their community and there is absolutely no reason for ICE to prioritize their detainment,” said Pallone, a Democrat.

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