A group of Indonesian Christians who fled persecution and found refuge in the U.S. 20 years ago now face deportation and the federal judge hearing their case said it reminds her of Jews who were denied asylum when they were trying to escape the Nazis before World War Two.
On May 13, 1939, a ship sailing from Germany to Cuba carrying 937 passengers, almost all of them Jewish, was turned away by the U.S. government. Hundreds of them were later killed in the Holocaust.
"We're not going to be that country," Judge Patti B. Saris said Wednesday at a hearing in a US District Court in Boston. "We don't want to put them on the ship unless someone" can review their contention that deportation back to Indonesia is "a really bad situation for them" cited the Boston Globe.
The Indonesian Christians claim that returning to their Muslim-majority homeland would put their lives in peril. They've been allowed to live in the U.S. provided they turned in their passports and show up for regular check-ins with authorities.
Now, the Trump administration wants to deport them, citing a lack of sufficient evidence to prove their lives would be in jeopardy if returned to Indonesia.
"Even if they are removed, petitioners' generalized evidence of Indonesia's conditions do not prove that persecution or torture is immediate or likely for each petitioner," Justice Department lawyers wrote in December. "Their assertion that 'all face a significant risk of persecution and torture if removed to Indonesia' is unsupported by facts that relate to any specific petitioner."
Saris issued an order in September temporarily halting their deportation.
"This is a hard case," Saris said during a hearing the following month. "These are good and decent people who have stayed here with our blessing and were given work authority and haven't violated the opinions we imposed on them."
The refugees were part of a wave of Indonesians who came to America in the late 1990s when violence against Christians in Indonesia was at its worst.
Many of them overstayed their visas and applied for asylum, but never received it.
Their plight has drawn bi-partisan support.
"New Hampshire should continue to be a sanctuary to the Indonesian community that fled religious persecution," said Democratic U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, of New Hampshire in late November 2017. "Deporting these individuals will needlessly split families and communities, and put lives in danger. I'll continue to make every effort to prevent these deportations so that the Indonesian community can continue to live peacefully in New Hampshire."
The Republican governor of New Hampshire is also trying to help, arguing their case isn't like other refugee immigration situations.
"This really isn't an issue of illegal immigration in the traditional sense," Gov Chris Sununu told the Associated Press in early December. "That is often what we hear from the Trump administration, and that is an issue that has to be dealt on the national scale. What you have here is a unique situation."
Judge Saris said during Wednesday's hearing that she may extend the order preventing their deportation.