Today, U.S. Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Representatives Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Frank Pallone (D-NJ), and Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) reintroduced legislation in both the Senate and House to allow certain Indonesian refugees to reopen claims for asylum. Many Indonesian Christians who fled their native country to avoid religious persecution are now faced with deportation after years of living, working, and paying taxes in the U.S. The legislation introduced today would provide a legal avenue for these individuals to reapply for asylum in the U.S.
"We're proud to reintroduce this bill to provide a chance to these hard-working Indonesian families that have lived law-abiding, peaceful lives in the United States for more than two decades," said Lautenberg. "These families fled religious persecution and came to our country to work to raise their families in safety. We must carry on America's long history of protecting refugees from persecution by giving these families a chance to legally seek asylum and to continue contributing to our country."
"Now is the time for the United States to provide refuge for those fleeing persecution and to support a process that fairly considers their claims. These individuals came to this country to escape extreme violence merely because of their religious beliefs, and should not be forced to return to that brutality. Instead, they should be allowed their day in court!" said Maloney. "This bill does not, in itself, grant asylum, but does prevent families from being ripped apart by removing a procedural barrier."
"I remain concerned about the status of those Indonesian citizens who fled religious persecution in their home country and may be forced to return despite their seeking asylum in the United States," said Pallone. "Many of these individuals have become valuable members of their local communities here in the United States. I am proud to re-introduce legislation, along with my colleagues, which would reopen the opportunity for these individuals to apply for asylum here in the U.S. and avoid having to return to religiously motivated violence and intolerance."
"Our fundamental and ancient values of fairness, justice, and religious freedom are at stake and these refugees deserve a chance to remain with their families," said Gutierrez. "These men and women fled persecution and violence in Indonesia and, like so many immigrants and refugees, came to the U.S. with the hopes of a brighter and safer future for themselves and their families. Many of these Indonesian refugees were denied asylum solely for missing a filing deadline and deserve their day in court. This bill aligns with this country's history and commitment to protecting people who fear persecution."
The "Indonesian Family Refugee Protection Act" would grant qualifying Indonesians whose asylum applications were denied solely based upon failure to meet the one-year application filing deadline an additional two-year window to reopen their asylum claims. The legislation was first introduced last year in the 112th Congress.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, many Indonesian Christians came to the U.S. on tourist visas when religious persecution in Indonesia escalated, resulting in extreme violence and destruction of Christian churches. Many of these families have lived, worked, and paid taxes in the U.S. for years and now have children who are U.S. citizens. A number of these families have settled in areas surrounding Highland Park, New Jersey, where they have become a part of the community.
At the request of the U.S. government, many of these Indonesians registered with the government under a program requiring the registration of non-citizen males from certain countries following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Following this registration, the government began deportation proceedings against some Indonesians who had overstayed their visas. These deportations and threatened deportations have caused fear in the Indonesian community that family members will have to return to Indonesia, where they could again face religious persecution.