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Barnes Asks Congress to Stop Deporting Indonesian Refugees

Senator Peter J. Barnes III

Measure Would Encourage Federal Government to Reopen Claims of Asylum for Certain Indonesian Refugees

TRENTON–- A concurrent resolution sponsored by Senator Peter J. Barnes III that would encourage the federal government to reconsider its policy regarding the deportation of Indonesian Christian refugees was approved today by the Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism and Historic Preservation Committee.

“Many of these men and women fled their native country of Indonesia due to religious persecution and traveled to America for a new beginning with real opportunity for their children and families,” said Senator Barnes, D-Middlesex. “Now our government is turning a blind eye to their plight, sending them back to Indonesia, and forcing many of these men and women to leave behind spouses, children and lives they built here in New Jersey.”

The resolution, SCR-12, would urge Congress to pass the “Indonesian Family Refugee Protection Act,” giving Indonesian citizens the opportunity to reopen their denied claims for asylum in the United States.

Many of these refugees left Indonesia after the death of Dictator Suharto in 1998 when Indonesian Christians were being persecuted, choosing to come to America on travel visas that allowed them to receive social security numbers and to work in the US. Starting in 2003, the US government required adult males from 15 predominately Muslim countries to register with US authorities. In good faith, many of these refugees registered and began applying for permanent asylum status. Unfortunately, the majority of these claims were denied on a technicality – it was required that they apply for asylum within one year of arriving to the States. The Senator notes that the federal bill would only ask the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement to reopen the claims, and determine these refugees’ ability to stay on merit rather than on missing a deadline.

“It is abhorrent to send these individuals back to a country that has pushed them aside due to their faith,” said Senator Barnes. “In Indonesia, churches have been burned and destroyed and people have been denied college entrance and civil service positions for being Christians. For people who found refuge after surviving a period of tremendous violence and who have lived productive lives as our neighbors for 15 years or more, it would be cruel to send them back to a place they left in terror.”

The Reformed Church of Highland Park – within Senator Barnes’ District–– made news the past few years for providing sanctuary to Indonesian refugees who were set to be deported. Last February, eight of these individuals received orders of supervision by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, allowing them to return home to their families in New Jersey. Through passage of this federal law, Senator Barnes wants to provide all Indonesian refuges – including the roughly 80 within Central New Jersey – with opportunity for their cases for asylum to be heard.

“The members of New Jersey’s Indonesian community, and its advocate churches, are so thankful for Senator Barnes ongoing attention to this matter,” said Reverend Seth Kaper-Dale of the Reformed Church of Highland Park. “With advocates like Senator Barnes we hope to ensure a safe future for those who have remained here. Though immigration policy is a federal matter it is at our state level where we feel the pain of its inadequacy.”

The resolution was approved by the Committee with a vote of 5-0.  It now heads to the full Senate for consideration.

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