AN INDONESIAN non-profit has deemed the administration of Donald Trump’s plans to return 69 ethnic Chinese migrants to Indonesia unconstitutional, as US lawmakers from both sides of politics call upon the president to prevent the deportation.
Those facing forcible repatriation are part of a 2000-strong community of Indonesian descent in the state of New Hampshire, most of whom fled anti-Chinese violence to the United States during the archipelago’s deadly 1998 riots.
Under an initiative from Senator Jeanne Shaheen in 2010, these members of the Indonesian Chinese community were encouraged to register with the government and become documented under the condition that they check in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) every 3 months.
Earlier in 2017, however, the Trump administration decided to terminate the program earlier with the 69 individuals subsequently being informed that they faced deportation to Indonesia.
Violating national and international law
The Jakarta Legal Aid Institute (LBH Jakarta) released a statement on Tuesday in which it said the government’s intention to deport the community members violates the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution.
Section One of the 14th Amendment reads that the government cannot “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
LBH Jakarta also said that the deportations would violate international law, as the US is a signatory to the UN Torture Convention and Refugee Conventions, which regulates that states cannot return people to a country where they are at risk of persecution, violence or torture.
“They feel that they are citizens of the United States. Most of them have left everything behind in 1998: family, jobs and property,” said Alldo Fellix Januardy, a human rights lawyer at LBH Jakarta.
“Starting everything all over again, in a country from which they were forced to flee, would only bring trauma to these families.”
The community fled widespread violence in May 1998, which led to more than 1000 deaths and property destruction in Chinese-majority neighbourhoods of urban centres such as Jakarta, Medan and Solo, and the rape of hundreds of women.
Januardy told Asian Correspondent that in a time of political turmoil the country’s Chinese minority were made “scapegoats for Indonesia’s economic crisis and inequality. It was a black period of history that everyone should acknowledge.”
The case of New Hampshire’s Indonesian community comes at a time when racial tensions are again running at a high in Indonesia – the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation.
Jakarta’s Christian, Chinese ex-governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama was ousted from his post and imprisoned in May after months of mass protests by hardline Muslim groups. He was convicted of insulting Islam under the country’s strict blasphemy laws.
‘Let them stay’
A number of US lawmakers, meanwhile, are making a bipartisan appeal to President Trump to allow New Hampshire’s Indonesian community to stay.
The Mayor of Dover, New Hampshire, Karen Weston and her colleagues on the city council earlier in October unanimously voiced their support for the Indonesian community, who it said was living “under a cloud of uncertainty and fear.”
“The threat of deportations also envelops innocent children that have been given a safe harbour in our country and in our city,” said a council resolution as quoted by the New Hampshire Union Leader.
The state’s Governor Chris Sununu wrote to fellow Republican Trump last Friday in a letter publicly released by his office this week, calling upon the administration to reconsider its decision and urging a resolution to allow the 69 individuals to remain in the United States.
“While I firmly believe that we must take steps to curb illegal immigration, it is also imperative that we make the process for legal immigration more streamlined and practical,” wrote Sununu, stating that the Chinese Indonesian community provided the “perfect example” of this.
“They came to this country fleeing persecution, and were met with the burdensome and confusing requirements that accompany the asylum process,” added Sununu, arguing that it was “not realistic” that asylum seekers would have the resources to “navigate a complicated legal process.”
Democratic Senator Shaheen welcomed the governor’s letter, stating on Monday that she had sent letters to leaders at the Department of Homeland Security and ICE, as well as Trump’s national security adviser, urging immediate attention to Sununu’s call.
“It’s important that the President and his administration understand that there’s bipartisan support for keeping these families intact and in New Hampshire, and that we cannot put these families in danger by sending them to a country where religious persecution is a very real threat,” she said.
Januardy told Asian Correspondent that returning the 69 people to Indonesia would re-traumatise the community, especially given the current political climate. “These victims’ fear that such violence could occur again is reasonable,” he said.
In a “worst case” scenario where they are deported, said Januardy, “we hope that the Indonesian government would assist [them] to build a new life, particularly to help them recover from past trauma.”