Arthur Jemmy and his wife moved into an upstairs room at the Reformed Church of Highland Park after Newark’s Office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement asked Jemmy to come in for an appointment. The 40-year-old Christian asylum-seeker from Indonesia feared ICE would deport him, just like seven of his friends ICE has already sent back to Indonesia this year, where violence and discrimination against Christians has occurred.
“They’re helping me, but right now, I’m kind of scared,” Jemmy said. “One of the pastors, they chop his head off. So I don’t want to go there. It really scared me. Especially for my families, you know. My parents. So that’s why I came to this country.”
Pastor and Green Party candidate for governor Seth Kaper-Dale has offered sanctuary here before and also runs a resettlement program for asylum-seekers.
“This is a group of people who came here as persecuted Christians and persecuted ethnic minorities in the late ’90s as the Suharto regime collapsed and they have been given here, time and time again, stays of removal as the government recognized they’re not deportation priorities,” said Kaper-Dale.
“It’s really about black and brown people. This is racism at its best,” said Green Party candidate for lieutenant governor Lisa Durden.
Historically, the U.S. resettles more refugees than any other country. But on Thursday, the Pew Research Center put out a report showing even as the number of people fleeing violence rises around the world, the U.S. is pulling back.
“The number of refugees that are entering in the most recent years don’t match the number of refugees that actually came during the early ’90s, when the size of the refugee global population was about equally as large,” said Pew Research Center Senior Researcher Phillip Connor, who authored the report.
The report shows U.S. refugee resettlement quotas set at 110,000 for 2017 by President Obama were slashed to 45,000 for next year by the Trump administration. Among states resettling refugees, California leads the way, New York is third and New Jersey ranks 27th. Over the past 15 years, New Jersey refugees tend to be younger and Muslim, from Syria.
“Here in Jersey City we have a lot of support,” said Church World Services spokesperson Courtney Madsen.
Church World Services helps resettle refugees in New Jersey, 88 so far this year. But according to Madsen, that’s half as many as last year.
“With the national attitudes turning against immigrants, I don’t think as many people will come to the U.S. to seek asylum, to seek safety, as they have in the past,” said Madsen.
Immigration, whether asylum-seekers, resettled refugees or DACA clients, remains a volatile political flash point.
On Thursday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the administration wants to toughen standards for fearful refugees seeking asylum.
“The system is being gamed, there’s no doubt about it,” Sessions said. “The credible fear process was intended to be a lifeline for persons facing serious persecution, but it is becoming an easy ticket to illegal entry into the United States.”
“It actually hurts my soul to see whats going on right now as we divorce ourselves from some of the most important elements of our values and our common values as a country,” said Sen. Cory Booker.
“I think it’s incredibly inhumane, you know, and as a candidate for governor I want to make sure that if we use the language of ‘sanctuary state’ that we recognize that we must be partners with faith communities that will carry out the historic practice of sanctuary,” said Kaper-Dale.
Kaper-Dale says the church will offer sanctuary to any refugee who requests it, and he expects more will given the current administration’s refugee policies.