Hiding in Plain Sight: S. Philly Indonesians Fear Deportation

Reports of ethnic profiling underscore immigration issues here.

By Aaron Kase
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 5 | Posted Jun. 15, 2010

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Asylum is the only option for Indonesian Chinese Christians who overstayed their visas but want to legalize their status. They’re not considered refugees because they come into the country directly from Indonesia, says Mulligan. “Generally speaking, for any person or group of persons to come to us as refugees they have to be living outside their home country and finding that they can’t return because they would be persecuted there,” he says.

Returning home is not an appealing move for Chinese Christians who have always faced discrimination in Indonesia. In May 1998, in the midst of protests against then-President Suharto, rioters lashed out against minorities. “There was looting, burning Chinese people’s stores, burning churches, attacking Chinese and Christians,” says the pastor. “They say ‘you Chinese, you go back to your country.’” There were also reports of mass rapes of Chinese women.

“I am hopeful that I will be able to stay in the United States,” Ricky continues. “When I ask my kids if they want to go, they say they want to stay because this is home.”

He says if he is deported, his wife and two children will stay behind in Philadelphia so they can continue their education.

Though Ricky remains optimistic he will be allowed to stay, recent history indicates that the outlook is grim.

Neither the Third Circuit Court nor the Department of Justice keeps records on asylum claims by nationality. However, Judi Bernstein-Baker, executive director of HIAS and Council Migration Service, estimates that about 200 asylum cases have reached the Third Circuit in the past decade, and she has only heard of two that were successful. Those figures do not include cases that were heard in lower immigration courts and not appealed.

Successful claims are rare thanks to a 2005 ruling by the federal Third Circuit Court of Appeals at Sixth and Market. In the asylum case Lie vs. Ashcroft , the court ruled that “the evidence in the record does not establish that there is a pattern or practice of persecution of Chinese Christians in Indonesia,” which set a precedent for future claims. “The door for asylums in this area has been virtually closed,” says Mulligan.

Jack Herzig is an immigration lawyer who has helped Indonesians with asylum claims for the last decade. He says the creation of the Department of Homeland Security following the 9/11 attacks directed extensive manpower and dollars toward finding and deporting illegal immigrants. “For the first time in American history we’ve been in a situation where people who are simply visa overstays are considered a threat,” Herzig says.

“The Chinese Indonesians came at the wrong time in American immigration history.”

One family has been fighting removal for seven years now. The couple came to Philadelphia in 1998 on tourist visas after the husband was pulled from his motorcycle and beaten up by an anti-Chinese mob.

“When we came, we did not have information,” the husband says. “We did not know how to apply or anything.”

He applied for asylum in 2003 after registering as an undocumented immigrant in compliance with the USA Patriot Act. “We’re been fighting the case the whole time,” he says, “but it’s close to the end.”

The claim has been denied, and deportation is scheduled for June 23.

They were basing their asylum claim on the welfare of their two children, who were born here, are American citizens, and do not speak Indonesian.

Most of all, they are worried about their security. “I believe it is still unsafe,” the husband says.

Other community members say they will continue to stay and work, and hope that the federal government passes reform that will allow them to stay legally.

“The irony is while we are fighting terrorism we are sending back to the largest Muslim country in the world a Chinese Christian community,” Herzig says. The son of Holocaust survivors, he sees shades of Eastern European Jews in the Chinese Indonesians.

“They are considered strangers in their own land though they have lived there for centuries,” Herzig says. “They have endured pogroms; they can be attacked with impunity—and they fear an even greater wave of violence yet to come.”

*Due to the sensitive nature of immigration issues and ongoing asylum cases, the names and identities of Indonesians interviewed for this article have been changed or concealed.

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Comments 1 - 5 of 5
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1. Hari B Widjaja - July 22-2010 said... on Jul 22, 2010 at 12:54PM

“Jesus knew & said that HIS people (and Israel too) and Christians will suffer mistreatments BEFORE His 2nd coming BUT --- WOE UNTO THEM THAT DID THIS TO HIS PEOPLE ---- it breaks my heart that I am now too poor to help my own people ---- July 22 - 2010”

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2. PhillyProud said... on Oct 20, 2010 at 08:11PM

“I would like to remind Mr. Herzig that several of the 9/11 plotters who murdered over 3000 people overstayed their visas. This article fails to acknowledge that these Indonesians have violated federal laws by coming to the United States on a temporary visa with no intentions on ever returning to their countries. They have committed a crime and need to take responsibility for their decisions. Stop blaming the police and ICE for doing their jobs and stop playing "the police are profiling" card.”

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3. AGUS said... on Apr 10, 2011 at 06:11PM

“" There are still thousands-thousands more living in South-Philly out here and running all factories & warehouse jobs somehow they all would be transporting in the "BIG-VAN(16 ILLEGAL-ALIENTS) or MINI-VAN" with 8(ALLIENTS) inside however they all are in the late 50th to 80th yrs old whose
still working through undocument agents for"CASH" deals whatsoever.
meanwhile they(ILEGAL-ALIENTS) would be living in houses/apartment with 20 or more people for cheaper pays. I am wandering if we all still living
in the third world countries. all of these are samples of "STEALING" our american jobs for a "CHEAP-LABORS" makes large provits for employers
somehow they all be working a long hours(7 days a week).
that is a great benefits the same quality what WE(AMERICAN) do.”

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4. mas yanto said... on Apr 19, 2011 at 10:52PM

“There are still employers out there mostly in state of pensylvannia somehow
are paying all these "UNDERGROUND AGENT" to exploit these illegal alients to do a labor job for cheap price($6-7.25/hrs) that way these employers DO NOT have to pay them any kind of benefits and these are more likely be done by a small warehouses/factories that are runs by families or several friends. on the other hand all these ilegal "TEMP-AGENT" would pay them in cash which another "TAX-EVASIONS".”

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5. Mas Yanto said... on Jul 30, 2013 at 06:18PM

“A lot of them had have been ordered for "DEPORTATION" but then they would KEPT on moving to another location and using someone else PA-ID's so they all be able to rent homes/apartments. there are some of them had have been here "OVERSTAY" or "TOURIST-VISA" for over decades. they all be living with 10 illegal people in 2 bedroom apartments in south Philly. PA-LAW would NEVER ASK for their STATUS whatsoever, UNLESS they do CRIME.
that is the "BEAUTY" LIVING IN PA folks ! enjoy being illegal; NOT NO CRIME & work for CASH ! they could be illegal here for 100 years in PA, as long as NOT DO NO CRIME ! Its called "INDEPENDENT" AMERICAN.”

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