Christian Who Fled Religious Persecution Deported in Trump-Era ICE Surge

Arino Massie arrived in the United States 16 years ago, after fleeing religious persecution in Muslim-majority Indonesia in the 1990s. He’s a Christian, and like the other members of a community of around 80 Indonesian Christians that left their home country — some more than 20 years ago — he now lives in New Jersey, works a blue-collar job and attends the Reformed Church of Highland Park with his family.

That is, Massie did until he was deported on Thursday.

Massie and the rest of his community overstayed their tourist visas. As male temporary visa holders from Muslim nations, after September 11, 2001, they were required by a new policy to register with the federal government, putting them on ICE’s radar. They then applied for asylum, but were rejected, having missed the one-year deadline.

Since then, they, like other Indonesian Christians have been at risk of deportation on an intermittent basis. Their sitation was a sort of limbo: they were not deported, despite no longer being in the country legally, but they were given no paths to permant legal status. As WNYC reports, “an ICE raid on a group of Indonesian Christians in 2006 put the community in the cross-hairs. Many were deported; others were held in detention.”

At this point, the reverend of the Reformed Church of Highland Park, Seth Kaper-Dale, intervened. The window of opportunity for asylum having passed, he worked out a deal with the Obama administration in 2009, which allowed a number to stay in the country under an “order of supervision.” It only lasted until 2012, when the raids began again.

Kaper-Dale then took more extreme measures, turning his church into a safe refuge, housing Indonesian Christians for 11 months — and turning national media attention on the story. In 2013, they were again granted orders of supervision, provided they remained in the community and kept clean criminal records.

They did, but just this week, four men were detained as part of the Trump administration’s expanded deportation policy, which now covers those without criminal records. Three of the men are still being detained. Massie was put on a plane to Japan and sent back to the country he fled almost two decades ago. He leaves behind not only the community to which he contributed, but a wife and a 13-year-old son, who is an American citizen.

Christianity Today reports:

“His attorney got a call at 10 a.m. that his stay of removal was denied,” stated Seth Kaper-Dale, Arino Massie’s pastor.

Almost two hours later, Kaper-Dale heard from Massie. “Arino called to say, ‘Pastor, I’m already on the plane. I’m headed for Japan. Thanks for all the efforts of the community. Tell the community I love them. Tell my son I love him,’” Kaper-Dale told about three dozen people gathered for a rally Thursday.

The Indonesia to which he returned is hardly better than the one he left. The most-populous majority-Muslim country in the world had improved its record on human rights for some time, but recently has relapsed into repression. Christianity Today elaborates:

…Indonesia’s reputation as a moderate country is not as accurate as it once was. CT reported in 2012 how record religious violence in Indonesia was bolstering the men’s claim for asylum. Christians make up seven percent of Indonesia’s nearly 260 million people.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom listed Indonesia as a “Tier 2” country in its 2017 list of countries of particular concern. The Pew Research Center rated Indonesia high in both government restrictions and social hostilities in its 2017 report on global religious restrictions. (The report uses data from 2015.)

In 2014, Pew called out Indonesia (along with several other of the world’s 25 most populous countries) as “having had the highest levels of overall restrictions in 2012 when both government restrictions and social hostilities involving religion are taken into account.”

Indonesia was ranked No. 46 on Open Doors’ 2017 World Watch List of countries where it’s hardest for Christians to live. Open Doors noted that the blasphemy allegations against the governor had led more than 200,000 people to the streets in anger. “Indonesia is known for a moderate and diverse Islam, yet extremism has more influence than is commonly perceived,” the report stated.

There is no telling how a Christian who once sought asylum in the United States will be treated by the Indonesian government upon return.

This effect of the new deportation policy seems to run counter, at least in spirit, to Trump’s promises to prioritize Christian refugees. As recently as nine days ago, Vice President Pence promised that America will prioritize Christians abroad. I guess now that Massie is once again abroad, he can be prioritized.

Of course, this is not the first time a Trump administration policy has had unintended consequences for Christians from abroad. Susan Wright wrote in January of the effects the “travel ban” executive order had on green card holders.

The policy instead adheres strictly to the principle that the United States ought to enforce its borders and is under no obligation to follow an open-door policy. This is, of course, correct. However, deportation policy has always been selective, prioritizing those deemed most dangerous over the otherwise law-abiding. If law-abiding Christians who sought asylum in good faith will be targeted by recent changes, it’s a poor allocation of ICE resources. Even that is too banal a description, considering the human cost.

The principle of the Rule of Law is indispensable. It includes the idea that the law should be enforced, but it also includes the idea that it should be consistent and predictable. This has not been the case for all Christians fleeing persecution; both the Bush and Obama administration wavered in their enforcement of immigration policy.

In its attempt to end the oscillation and restore the sovereignty of law, the Trump administration has turned its back on huddled masses yearning to breathe free, with no visible gain for national security. Immigration law needs reform to uphold the promise of America. The administration needs competent officials who understand that its policies work contrary to the stated intentions of its chief executive.

Most importantly, Massie needs prayers for protection and favor as he returns to Indonesia.

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