State AG expresses concern over ICE’s actions as immigrant seeks asylum

Posted: Updated:
HIGHLAND PARK -

New Jersey’s attorney general expressed “serious concern” Friday over immigration officials’ actions, as an Indonesian immigrant continued to seek asylum in a church.

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal said he sent a letter Thursday to the secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security suggesting that federal agents’ arrest of two Indonesian nationals may have violated a longstanding prohibition on immigration enforcement actions at “sensitive locations.”

The men were dropping their children off at school when they were taken into custody. 

Grewal called on U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen to personally review the incident. The letter expressed “serious concern” about the arrests of Indonesian nationals Gunawan Liem, of Franklin Park, and Roby Sanger, of Metuchen, in Middlesex County. 

“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,” Grewal’s letter stated, in part. “Undoubtedly, this creates a chilling environment for parents, who were simply ensuring that their children arrived to school safely.”

The letter went on to express broader concern about ensuring there are no Immigration and Customs Enforcement actions at courthouses and at state facilities throughout New Jersey.

CLICK HERE to read the state attorney general's full letter

Harry Pangemanam, who has been living in the United States for over 20 years, is one of several Indonesian Christians who fled their home country to escape religious persecution in the 1990s.

ICE agents also targeted Pangemanam Thursday, but he was able to seek asylum in Second Reformed Church of Highland Park, where he remained Friday afternoon.

Pangemanam said he was taking his daughters to school when he spotted the ICE vehicle and ran back inside his home. He told his daughters to walk to school because he did not trust the vehicle and then called immigration advocate Pastor Seth Kaper-Dale.

Kaper-Dale said he tried to approach the ICE agents to find out what was going on.

“I pulled up to the window, rolled down my window and the guy took off,” Kaper-Dale said. “At that point, I said to Harry, ‘Get in my car. You’ve got to get in the church quick.’”

Kaper-Dale said he returned to the house and witnessed ICE agents banging on Pangemanam’s door. He then called Gov. Phil Murphy, who came to the church to meet the men.

“We obviously need to put our heads together and figure out how to respond because this can’t stand,” Murphy said. “This is not our country. It’s not our values. It’s not the place [Pangemanam] came to to escape persecution.”

Pangemanam joined two other Indonesian men who fear deportation that were already seeking asylum at the church.

Arthur Jemmy said he has been at the church since October.

“Once I step out of the building, I don't know if ICE is going to be around and pick me up right away,” he said.

News 12 New Jersey previously reported on the situation surrounding the Indonesian immigrants. They came to the United States in the 1990s, found jobs and started families. They were required to check in yearly with ICE in Newark in order to remain in the country.

However, several of them were deported when President Donald Trump took office.

None of the immigrants have criminal records.

RELATED: Last of 4 Indonesian men seeking asylum in NJ to be deported

A spokesman for ICE sent a statement to News 12, which said, in part: "ICE does not target individuals based on religion, ethnicity, gender or race. Any suggestion to the contrary is patently false."

Murphy said that he will try to figure out how to respond and stop the roundups.

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