Immigrant Who Just Won Public Service Award Named for MLK Is Now Hiding From ICE in a New Jersey Church


Mel Evans/AP

Originally published by Slate

Democratic New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy met Friday morning with Harry Pangemanan, the undocumented Indonesian immigrant who took sanctuary from ICE agents at the Reformed Church of Highland Park in the city of Highland Park, New Jersey, on Thursday. Murphy and Democratic Rep. Frank Pallone both say they will attempt to obtain a stay of deportation for Pangemanan, who has been in the United States since 1993 (he entered on a temporary visa) and has an extremely sympathetic biography. From the Asbury Park Press:

Since 2012, Pangemanan has led a team of volunteers rebuilding more than 200 homes in Monmouth and Ocean counties devastated by Superstorm Sandy.

He received the 2018 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Award from the Highland Park Human Relations Commission on Jan. 15 for his efforts.

“I’m working. I’ve worked hard for my family,” he told an Asbury Park Press reporter. “I’m not dependent on somebody else.”

(Point of clarity: Pangemanan himself is paid by a church group to lead the rebuilding projects.)

Said Pangemanan’s pastor, the Rev. Seth Kaper-Dale: “Many of the houses that he worked on, in the lawn of the homes he was working on were big Donald Trump signs and yet he was still rebuilding those homes to get Jersey families back inside.”

Pangemanan, a Christian, says he left his majority-Muslim homeland because of the threat of persecution and could be put in danger if he’s forced to return. It doesn’t appear to be an overblown concern: Last May, for example, the Christian governor of Jakarta was sentenced to two years in jail for allegedly blaspheming the Koran. The New Jersey resident’s case has been taken up by activists like MoveOn Washington director Ben Wikler:

Pangemanan and his pastor are also activists, in fact: Kaper-Dale leads a group called the Deportation and Immigration Response Equipo and ran for governor last year on the Green Party ticket. Pangemanan became something of a spokesman for undocumented immigrants in New Jersey after a previous experience taking sanctuary in Kaper-Dale’s church in 2012. (He was able to leave after 11 months when the Obama administration issued a stay of his deportation order.) Knowing he might once again be picked up under Trump, Pangemanan and Kaper-Dale were prepared for Thursday’s events:

He was backing out of his driveway to take his oldest daughter to Metuchen High School when he saw an unmarked SUV out front inch toward his car. Pangemanan placed the car in park, jumped out and ran inside. Then he called his daughter, who was still in the car. “I told her, ‘Please walk to the school because I do not trust the car behind us,’ ” Pangemanan recalled. He then called Kaper-Dale, who picked him up and took him to the church. Kaper-Dale went back to Pangemanan’s house in Highland Park and filmed ICE agents as they knocked on the front door.

Pangemanan’s story is somewhat reminiscent of Rosa Parks, an NAACP activist whose famous arrest, which made her the face of a successful high-profile boycott, involved both spontaneous protest and premeditated political strategy. In fact, Pangemanan’s prominence may itself have attracted ICE’s attention: A Washington Post story published a week ago noted that the agency has recently arrested a number of immigrant organizers around the country, while this week the Border Patrol detained an Arizona man whose humanitarian organization had just distributed a video of agents kicking over water bottles that had been left in the desert for border-crossers. In New Jersey, it seems, both sides of America’s most polarizing current civil rights issue were ready for a fight.


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