New Jersey

Homes of Immigrants Seeking Sanctuary in NJ Church Ransacked: Activists

What to Know

  • Indonesian nationals who have gone into a New Jersey church seeking sanctuary from immigration officials say their homes were ransacked
  • One of the men escaped detainment by going to the church after dropping his daughter off at school this week; several others were detained
  • It's not known who may have broken into the homes

Immigrants seeking sanctuary at a church in New Jersey say first they were targeted by immigration officials and then their houses were ransacked. 

A father who was among the several Indonesian nationals targeted by immigration officers in New Jersey this week says his home was broken into after he sought sanctuary in the Reformed Church of Highland Park. 

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. 

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.

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.

"Schools are deemed to be sensitive locations under the policy," Grewal wrote. "Here, the fact that ICE arrested two parents as they were driving away from their children's school is deeply upsetting. I am not aware of any exigent or unique circumstances here that would justify such a departure from ICE's settled policy on sensitive locations."

At a news conference Friday, Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy expressed support for Pangemanan — who recently received an award for helping rebuild hundreds of homes in the state after Superstorm Sandy — and others targeted by immigration officials.

"We have to remind ourselves that they were escaping religious persecution. They're Christians who came from Indonesia," Murphy said. "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."

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.

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 said he doesn’t know how long he’ll end up staying at the church, and like the others there, he wishes to return to his house. “I’ll just take it one day at a time,” he said.

“I still keep looking forward, things are going to work out, and I will get proper paper from the government,” Jemmy said.

Members of the church planned to rally during morning service Sunday for the three men in sanctuary there. They said they'd also be rallying for three others in the community who were detained, six others who were deported in the past year, and dozens of others who are living in fear.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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