Fight over Indonesian immigrants back in US court

People protesting outside court on behalf of the Indonesians in Manchester, New Hampshire, in October 2017
People protesting outside court on behalf of the Indonesians in Manchester, New Hampshire, in October 2017PHOTO: REUTERS

BOSTON (REUTERS) - Lawyers for 51 Indonesians living illegally in New Hampshire are due in court on Wednesday (Jan 17) to urge a federal judge to grant an injunction blocking US immigration officials from moving forward with efforts to deport them.

The case affects a group of Indonesian Christians who fled that country during violence two decades ago and had been living openly for years under an informal deal with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials.

That changed after President Donald Trump ordered an end to the ICE arrangement as part of his administration's moves to tighten immigration enforcement.

The Indonesians fear discrimination or violence for their religion and Chinese ancestry if they are forced to return to the world's largest majority-Muslim nation.

Most members of the group covered by the 2010 deal with ICE entered the United States legally but overstayed their visas and failed to seek asylum on time.

Federal officials contend they have always had the authority to deport the Indonesians at any time but until now had not exercised it.

Federal law gives authority over immigration matters to the executive branch, not the courts.

Chief US District Judge Patti Saris in Boston found she had authority to ensure the Indonesians have a chance to argue that conditions in their home country had deteriorated significantly enough to reopen their cases for trying to stay in the United States.

Saris in October ordered immigration officials to provide the immigrants' lawyers with their full files, a request that federal officials complained was onerous.

Those files had not been produced as of early this month, according to court papers.

The Indonesians are part of an ethnic community of about 2,000 people clustered around the city of Dover, New Hampshire.

Their cause has drawn the support of the state's all-Democratic congressional delegation, including US Senator Jeanne Shaheen and Republican Governor Chris Sununu.