BOSTON – Dozens of Indonesians fighting deportation from the United States won another reprieve Monday when a judge ruled that a federal court has the authority to take up their case.
U.S. District Court Judge Patti Saris in Boston rejected the government's argument that the court doesn't have jurisdiction in the matter and that immigration officials should be allowed to immediately deport the Indonesians.
An attorney for roughly 50 Christian Indonesians, who fear persecution if returned home, called the judge's decision "enormously significant."
"It reaffirms the central role of the federal courts in ensuring that there is a fair process when someone's life may be at stake," said Lee Gelernt, of the American Civil Liberties Union's Immigrants' Rights Project. "The court soundly rejected the government's position that the federal courts lack authority to ensure that individuals have an opportunity to present their case before an immigration judge before they're removed."
The judge is blocking immigration officials from removing the Indonesians until the court considers their request for a preliminary injunction. She had initially put their deportation on hold until she could decide whether the court had authority to take up the matter.
The government already appealed the judge's earlier decision to the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and is likely to challenge her latest ruling.
Many of the Indonesians went to seacoast communities in New Hampshire, where they found jobs and raised families. In a deal brokered by Democratic U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, of New Hampshire, in 2009, they were allowed to stay as long as they regularly reported to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office.
But in recent months, they were told during their visits to the immigration office that they should buy plane tickets and prepare to leave the country. Some said they fear returning to Indonesia, a Muslim-majority country, due to an uptick in intolerance and violence against Christians and other minorities.
Shaheen said she's "very encouraged" by the ruling.
"New Hampshire should continue to be a sanctuary to the Indonesian community that fled religious persecution," Shaheen said in a statement. "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."
A federal judge in Michigan ruled in July that a U.S. district court has jurisdiction in a similar immigration case. The government is challenging that ruling, which halted the deportation of 1,400 Iraqi nationals, including many Christians fearing persecution.
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