Passports stolen from homes of Indonesian men seeking sanctuary

Posted: Updated:
HIGHLAND PARK -

Passports belonging to two Indonesian immigrants who are seeking sanctuary in the United States were stolen when their homes were burglarized.

Harry Pongemanan and Arthur Jemmy have been living in the U.S. since the 1990s after fleeing religious persecution. The men were able to secure jobs and started families but have now been targeted for deportation.

The men have been hiding out in the Reformed Church of Highland Park until their immigration status can be worked out. But while they have been hiding, their homes were broken into. 

It was not known if the homes were burglarized as a result of a hate crime or if it was the work of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

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In both cases, valid Indonesian passports were stolen. The thieves left the expired documents behind.

Pastor Seth Kaper-Dale, who has been helping the men, says that he sees the thefts as evidence of a bias crime and is concerned with who committed it.

“Potentially that could be a very sophisticated anti-immigrant person who wants to give ICE travel documents to make it easy to deport someone,” Kaper-Dale says. "Or maybe it is ICE or some arm of ICE that's doing this kind of horrible thing."

ICE has denied having any involvement in the crimes.

A spokesperson for the agency says "...to suggest that ICE law enforcement officers were involved in such an incident is patently false...To suggest that they would cause intentional harm to property is irresponsible and spreads undue fear in the community, which [Kaper-Dale] claims to support."

Jemmy moved into the church in October to avoid deportation. Pongemanan moved in last week after ICE attempted to detain him while taking his daughter to school.

Kaper-Dale says that he does not believe that these are random burglaries.

“I don’t believe that for a minute. I believe that this is directly linked to Gov. [Phil] Murphy coming and showing support for people in sanctuary,” he says.

Gov. Murphy has said that he is concerned about the deportations. He visited with the men last week. The New Jersey attorney general has also expressed some concerns.

Highland Park and Edison police are investigating the break-ins.

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