BOSTON (CN) – The U.S. government lost its bid, at least temporarily, to abruptly eject several dozen Indonesian Christians who have been living in New Hampshire for years as part of a deportation-deferment program.
Attorneys at Nixon Peabody brought the underlying challenge with the American Civil Liberties Union earlier this year, representing 51 Indonesian immigrants who for the last seven or eight years have been benefiting from a federal humanitarian program called Operation Indonesian Surrender.
Operating from the Boston field office of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, federal agents have since 2010 worked with churches across New England to identify immigrants from Indonesia who were residing under a final order of removal but were otherwise law-abiding and productive.
In exchange for the ability to remain in the United States under an order of supervision, obtaining renewable stays of removal, these individuals simply had to check in with ICE and not commit any crimes.
Only individuals with U.S. citizen children or spouses since 2012 were allowed to participate. The Nov. 27 ruling by U.S. District Judge Patti Saris says about 100 Christian Indonesians are believed to have participated.
A Muslim-majority country that has increasingly clung to extremist positions over the years, Indonesia’s hostility toward religious minorities is well documented.
Shortly after the election this year of President Donald Trump, however, ICE abruptly terminated Operation Indonesian Surrender
The ACLU’s roughly two dozen clients are among program participants who were greeted with what are known as 30-30 orders this past August when they tried to check in at the ICE suboffice in Manchester, New Hampshire.
Such orders require the immigrants to return to the office in the next 30 days carrying airline tickets that would take them back to their home countries another 30 days after that.
Judge Saris temporarily stayed these removal orders, however, to hold a hearing last month on jurisdiction.
After hearing testimony from an ICE officer and several other experts, Saris decided Monday to block the immigrants’ removal pending further proceedings.
“Since Petitioners’ challenge is tied to a term of their [Orders of Supervision], habeas jurisdiction is proper,” the 22-page opinion states.
The ACLU contends that the threat of religious persecution that their clients face in Indonesia may qualify them for asylum, but that the government’s sudden policy shift forecloses them from obtaining a status change.
Citing a June ruling in the Michigan case Hamama v. Adducci, the ACLU says Indonesia belongs to a so-called Tier 2 group of countries that are less repressive than North Korea but “includes Iraq, a nation to which deportations of Christians has been halted by another federal court.”
The ACLU also noted Indonesia’s high rating by the Pew Research Center “in both government restrictions and social hostilities in its 2017 report on global religious restrictions.”