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As N.H. immigrants face increasing uncertainty, a community shows support

  • Eighteen-month-old Olby Pebierre waits in line with his mother at the outside entrance of the Norris Cotton Federal Building in Manchester on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017. The building houses the Immigration and Customs Enforcement on the second floor. They waited as 130 people held a vigil around them. Olby’s mother, who did not want to be identified, is from Haiti and lives in Manchester. She was there for her monthly ICE check-in. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Eighteen-month-old Olby Pebierre waits in line with his mother at the outside entrance of the Norris Cotton Federal Building in Manchester on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017. The building houses the Immigration and Customs Enforcement on the second floor. They waited as 130 people held a vigil around them. Olby’s mother, who did not want to be identified, is from Haiti and lives in Manchester. She was there for her monthly ICE check-in. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Some of the 130 attendees sing during the vigil at outside the ICE office in downtown Manchester on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • The Rev. Chris Jablonski of Portsmouth’s South Church prays during the vigil at the Norris Cotton Federal building in downtown Manchester on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Participants in a vigil walk around the Norris Cotton Federal Building in downtown Manchester, which houses Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017. The group walked around the building seven times and then ended with prayers and songs as people waited in line to check in with ICE. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff



Monitor staff
Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Standing in line Tuesday morning, her husband and children at her side, Hesti kept her head high.

The Dover woman, an undocumented immigrant from Indonesia who declined to give her last name, was waiting to be let into the Norris Cotton Federal Building to “check in” with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. It was a process to which Hesti, who’s lived in New Hampshire since 2002, was well-accustomed. The check-ins have been mandatory since 2010, when ICE put Hesti and her family under an order of supervision.

But last month the dynamic changed, and on Tuesday, Hesti was far from at ease. At his own check-in, Hesti’s husband, Mike, was told that his time was up to buy a plane ticket back to Indonesia. The flight had to depart by Oct. 6; Mike was ordered to produce proof of a purchased ticket at a subsequent check-in Sept. 6.

This time, Hesti was worried she and her children were next.

“It’s going to be up to today,” she said. Farther up the line, Mike held their son, 13, against his chest. “I don’t know what they’re going to decide.”

Hesti and her family aren’t alone; about 30 immigrants – many Indonesian – formed a line outside the office Tuesday. In August, a group of 23 members of an Indonesian church in Madbury, Maranatha Indonesian United Church of Christ, were also told to buy tickets in preparation for deportation, according to New Hampshire Public Radio.

Now, as many of those people are facing deadlines to provide evidence of their plane tickets, activists are speaking out against the deportations.

On Tuesday, more than 130 people attended a prayer vigil, demonstrating against what they said is an unfairly hasty deportation process that they say will hurt families.

“They have some kids who came here as children, they have some kids who are U.S. citizens ... and New Hampshire is their home,” said Arnie Alpert, co-director of the New Hampshire branch of the American Friends Service Committee, which helped organize the vigil.

The vigil came hours before U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a policy put in place under President Barack Obama protecting children of undocumented immigrants from deportation.

And it emerged in response to increased enforcement set by the new presidential administration, organizers say.

Changing landscape

The Indonesian clergy in New Hampshire – 68 total – have long fallen under the watch of ICE, according to Bill Hahn, an immigration lawyer representing many of the families.

That’s in part by design – in 2010, the agency opened a program in Dover catered to the Indonesian population that would allow those who had lost their immigration cases and had been served removal orders to come forward and apply for a stay of the order.

Provided that the applicants did not have criminal records and agreed to regularly check in under a supervisory order, those accepted into the program would be allowed to carry on their lives unimpeded.

That year, a number of New Hampshire’s Indonesians applied, Hahn recalled. Some were rejected – and then deported – he said. But many, usually the ones with family and children, were allowed to stay, provided they reapplied for the stay every year and checked in with ICE periodically.

Under the Obama administration, those check-ins were sporadic – required once every nine months to a year, according to activists.

But following the inauguration of President Donald Trump, who campaigned on a hard-line approach to combating undocumented immigration, the landscape changed. The mandatory check-ins have become monthly affairs, activists and immigrants say.

And Trump changed another crucial aspect of the program: On Jan. 25, five days into office, the new president signed an executive order rescinding the Obama-era guidance that mandated that ICE concentrate on criminals when prioritizing its deportations. Without such guidance, anyone with a deportation order – regardless of any prior arrangement – is a priority, Hahn said.

Earlier this year, all Granite State Indonesians had their stay applications revoked, according to Hahn. On Aug.1, members of the group became the first to be told to book flights.

‘Faith to God’

Shawn Neudauer, Public Affairs Officer at the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees ICE, declined to comment on specific cases. But he said that by issuing the deportations the agency is merely enforcing court orders already issued by federal immigration judges.

“ICE didn’t issue the orders of removal,” he said. “The courts did. ICE is carrying out those orders, usually after these individuals have exhausted extremely lengthy appeals at U.S. taxpayer expense.”

Neudauer denied that the increased check-ins were a result of a policy change at ICE, saying that they were likely a product of the court timetable ahead of the removal process. But he hinted that the new deportations are a direct result of the new executive guidance.

“As the President’s executive orders make clear, ICE will no longer exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement,” he said. “All of those in violation of immigration laws may be subject to immigration arrest, detention and, if found removable by final order, removal from the United States.”

Throughout the morning, demonstrators made their frustrations clear. Local religious leaders led prayers and songs and delivered speeches to an attentive crowd. The Rev. Eric Jackson of Brookside Congregational Church in Manchester led attendees in a silent “Jericho march” seven times around the block – matching the Hebrew retelling of the Battle of Jericho.

Meanwhile, families lined up outside the building, many of whom declined to identify themselves, and said the newfound possibility of rapid deportation orders brought acute uncertainty.

For Hesti and Mike, leaving the country and state that they’ve occupied for 15 years is difficult to comprehend. The two work in Rochester: Hesti at Phase 2, a medical company; and Mike at Rubber Group, a manufacturer. They’re active in their community and church; their son, 13 and daughter, 11, both attend Tri-City Christian Academy in Somersworth. Shortly after they arrived, the two got married here.

“I started my family here – I started everything here,” Hesti said.

Both the school and the couple’s employers have appealed to ICE for leniency, Hesti said. But the agency has so far been steadfast.

For his part, Mike bought his plane ticket back to Indonesia, fearing incarceration if he didn’t comply. He said he is planning to take it into the ICE office for inspection Wednesday. But he doesn’t know if he’ll have to get on the plane. And Hesti hasn’t bought a ticket for herself or the kids. For now, she said, they’re taking the situation step by step.

“We just put our faith to God,” she said. “Because that’s the only answer we have right now.