New Jersey

Dozens Rally for Immigrants Seeking Sanctuary in NJ Church

Two of the immigrants say their houses were ransacked

What to Know

  • Dozens of people rallied outside a New Jersey church on Sunday in support of three immigrants seeking refuge inside
  • Two of the three Indonesian nationals say their homes were ransacked while they were at the church
  • One of the men escaped detainment by going to the church after dropping his daughter off at school this week; several others were detained

People gathered outside a New Jersey church on Sunday morning to show support for three immigrants seeking sanctuary inside.

Two of the three Indonesian nationals say their homes were ransacked after they sought sanctuary from immigration officers in the Reformed Church of Highland Park.

Dozens of people rallied outside the church in the rain as Mass was held inside.

"I believe very strongly that our community stands for protecting refugees and protecting people that need our help," said Krista Caiola, of Metuchen. “Choose love, choose acceptance, choose helping people that need our help.”

One of the immigrants, Harry Pangemanan, says he went to the church Thursday because immigration officers had been tailing him for days as he took his daughter to school.

He found support from the demonstrators Sunday. "They said Harry, 'You should be here, you belong here,'" he said. 

Pangemanan, who has lived in the U.S. for about 25 years, recently received an award for helping rebuild hundreds of homes in the state after Superstorm Sandy. 

"We have to remind ourselves that they were escaping religious persecution. They're Christians who came from Indonesia," Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy said Friday. "So they didn't necessarily come here for economic opportunity. They're coming basically because they're being marginalized and persecuted. America used to be — and, God willing, will be again — the beacon and have our arms open to folks like that around the world."

Video taken by Rev. Seth Kaper-Dale of the Reformed Church of Highland Park shows officers knocking at Pangemanan’s door just minutes after he found sanctuary at the church.

Then on Friday, when his daughter went to pick up clothes for him, she found their house ransacked with a couple of hundred dollars missing, he says.

“I think they’re forcing the front door. Either they’re kicking it or they use pry bar,” Pangemanan said.

In a similar incident, another Indonesian national who has been in sanctuary at the Highland Park church since October says his house was broken into. Arthur Jemmy shared recent photos with NBC 4 of his home, where someone had kicked in an air conditioner to gain entry. He says nothing was stolen.

It’s not known if the men’s immigration statuses had anything to do with the break-ins. News 4 has reached out to ICE for comment. News 4 has also reached out to police in Highland Park and Edison to confirm they’re investigating the alleged robbery or vandalism at the two homes but they have yet to get back.

Highland Park Police stopped by the church Saturday to ensure the Indonesian nationals seeking sanctuary there that they will do extra patrols near their homes to try to prevent anyone else from breaking in.

Pangemanan says he's working with his lawyer to try to find a way to stay in the country he has called home for decades, but he says his fight is just one of many around the nation. "There's thousands of people that fear every single minute that their parents will be separated from them," he said. 

While Pangemanan managed to make it to the church on Thursday, two other Indonesian parents — Gunawan Liem and Roby Sanger — were arrested after they dropped their children off at school.

New Jersey's attorney general wrote to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen Friday expressing concerns over what he called the "deeply upsetting" arrests of the parents.

Attorney General Gurbir Grewal wrote that school areas are exempt from immigration actions under what he called longstanding immigration policy.

A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman didn't immediately return a message seeking comment on the arrests from the Associated Press on Friday. On Thursday, ICE said the arrests in New Jersey were routine and weren't based on religion, ethnicity, gender or race, the Associated Press reported.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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