Yohanes Tasik is the third Indonesian Christian immigrant without legal status to enter sanctuary at the Reformed Church of Highland Park since Donald Trump took office.
Steph Solis via Wochit
HIGHLAND PARK, N.J. — Carrying his 3-year-old daughter in his arms, Yohanes Tasik scoped out the church classroom he indefinitely would call home.
The Indonesian Christian, facing mounting pressure to report to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, took refuge Friday night inside the Reformed Church of Highland Park. He is the third Indonesian Christian who claimed sanctuary within the church in fear of deportation.
“I’m not a criminal here,” said Tasik, 54, of Avenel. “I’m always working. I pay taxes.”
Tasik, who works in a local warehouse, has lived in the United States since he fled religious persecution from Indonesia in 1989. He lacks legal status and periodically checks in with ICE officials in Newark as part of an agreement to let him live in the country, known as an “order of supervision.”
He suspects that agreement has come to an end. Immigration officials went to his apartment around 5:45 a.m. Friday, weeks after they told him to report to ICE without bringing his 3-year-old daughter as he has in the past.
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Friday morning, Tasik said officials found him and his daughter outside his apartment. She clung to him as he carried her in his arms. Officials instructed him to drop off the toddler at her mother’s apartment nearby.
“They said don’t bring the kid,” he said. “If I don’t bring the baby, I’m done.”
When the mother did not respond to knocks at the door, Tasik said, the officials returned with him to his apartment. The officials remained in the area until after 9 a.m.
The Asbury Park Press has reached out to Immigration and Customs Enforcement office for comment.
The Rev. Seth Kaper-Dale, who leads a local group called the Immigration and Deportation Response Equipo, said he received a call about ICE’s visit and drove to Avenel to help Tasik. Twelve other DIRE members responded, searching for signs of ICE agents and checking in with Tasik’s family.
“That (DIRE) is a group that we set up to run interference against the behavior of the Trump administration that’s hell-bent on destroying the lives of families,” said Kaper-Dale, a immigration advocate who supports the Indonesian Christian community.
By Friday night, Tasik was in the church building with his bags packed and his daughter on his hip. He carried her in his arms until another family member picked her up.
Fleeing religious persecution
Tasik joins a growing list of Indonesians from central New Jersey being targeted by immigration authorities. At least seven local Indonesians without legal status have been deported. Four others self-deported for fear of being detained. Another was detained and remains in ICE custody.
Arthur Jemmy and Silfia Tobing, an Indonesian couple who feared deportation, entered sanctuary at the church in October. They were among nine who took sanctuary in 2012 after receiving orders of deportation. ICE halted the deportations nearly a year later.
ICE renewed its efforts to deport Indonesian immigrants without legal status after President Trump’s Jan. 25 executive action that made all unauthorized immigrants priorities for removal. His predecessor, Barack Obama, had established a system that made violent felons and gang members priorities for deportation.
Trump remains steadfast in his crackdown on illegal immigration, regardless of the immigrants’ personal circumstances.
These ethnic Chinese Christians fled religious persecution from their home country of Indonesia, a Muslim-majority nation, and could have qualified for asylum when they first arrived. But the rules surrounding asylum petitions changed after the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, which required that potential asylum seekers apply within a year of entering the United States. Many local Indonesians said they were not aware of the requirement.
In Tasik’s case, he wanted to apply for asylum but could not afford the legal fees when he qualified. He was targeted by immigration authorities after he voluntarily registered in the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, a database the Bush administration launched for nationals of Muslim-majority countries after the 9/11 attacks.
Tasik said lawyers twice applied for asylum on his behalf in the 2000s, but they were denied.
Recent encounters with ICE
Over the last three months, Tasik has had to wear an ankle bracelet and attend more frequent meetings with ICE.
He recalls being told to report on Jan. 31 to get his ankle bracelet checked out. Officials told him, he added, not to bring his daughter with him like he has for previous check-ins.
That’s when he suspected ICE was planning to detain or deport him.
“I just want the American government to give me a chance to stay,” he said. “It’s about the future of my daughter.”
Follow Steph Solis on Twitter: @stephmsolis
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