Originally Published in The Washington Post
Meagan Flynn - October 3, 2020
Siahaan’s attorneys, Elsy Ramos Velasquez and Patrick Taurel, had argued the arrest was made under false pretenses, without a warrant and in violation of ICE’s policy that typically prohibits agents from making arrests on church property. They also argued that Siahaan, who is Christian, should not be deported to majority-Muslim Indonesia until he has a chance to fully pursue religious asylum.
On Friday, U.S. District Judge Paul Grimm agreed, granting Siahaan a preliminary injunction that blocks ICE from removing him from the country until the Board of Immigration Appeals, or a higher federal court, makes a ruling on his pending appeal. Siahaan is being held at a detention center in Georgia, where he was transferred from Baltimore to await deportation. Grimm also ordered ICE to bring him back to Baltimore, where he will remain in custody closer to his family.
“When the ruling came down, we were really relieved,” said the Rev. Kara Scroggins, pastor at Glenmont United Methodist. “We’re glad that he’s closer to home at the detention facility in Baltimore, but we’re going to keep fighting until he’s home with his family.”
ICE could not immediately be reached for comment Saturday but previously said Siahaan was arrested “after he received full due process in the nation’s immigration courts.”
Since Siahaan’s arrest, Scroggins has led a group of Washington-area clergy and faith-based activists in fighting for Siahaan’s release, holding vigils and demonstrations and sending petitions to ICE pleading for leniency.
Siahaan and Eko Sukemi moved into the home at Glenmont United Methodist in January — not to seek sanctuary from enforcement, Sukemi said last month, but to clean, garden and make repairs on church grounds.
Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said Siahaan’s arrest on church grounds “deeply concerned” him.
“ICE’s sensitive locations policy seeks to, in its own words, enhance the public’s understanding and trust to ensure that people seeking to participate in activities or services provided at any sensitive location are free to do so without fear or hesitation,” Van Hollen said in an Oct. 1 statement. “The violation of this policy undermines the public trust and spreads fear in places of safe haven.”
Siahaan and Sukemi have been in the United States for roughly three decades, each coming on A-3 visas to work for Indonesian diplomats as a driver and nanny. But after their visas expired in the early 1990s, they struggled to find a path to legal residency.
An attorney who would later be disbarred in Maryland botched their initial asylum paperwork in the early 2000s, and they were ordered to be deported in 2005, Ramos Velasquez said. Under the Obama administration, ICE granted them orders of supervision in 2012, allowing them to remain in the country if they regularly checked in at their local ICE field office.
ICE revoked Siahaan’s supervision order in February without explanation, Ramos Velasquez said, although the agency released him with an ankle monitor at home while he filed appeals. When ICE agents came to Siahaan’s home on church grounds Sept. 10, Ramos Velasquez said, they told him they simply needed to check his ankle monitor — a “ruse” she said they used to enter his home and rearrest him.
On Thursday, Siahaan’s two children, both U.S. citizens, joined groups on a one-mile march from Christ United Methodist in D.C. to ICE headquarters, where they delivered petitions demanding Siahaan be released from custody. Scroggins said they wanted ICE to recognize Siahaan’s humanity and to recommit to following its sensitive-locations policy.
“The current administration claims to be the best in history for religious freedom,” the Rev. Nathan Empsall of Faithful America said ahead of the march, “but its cruel treatment of Binsar Siahaan and blatant violation of the sensitive-locations policy proves otherwise.”