Judge blocks deportation of man detained on church grounds

A federal judge on Friday blocked the deportation of an Indonesian immigrant who was detained last month on the grounds of a Maryland church, a space considered a “sensitive location” in which immigration authorities generally avoid enforcement actions.

Judge Paul W. Grimm instructed U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to return Binsar Siahaan from a detention facility in Georgia to Maryland, where he is to remain in custody while his attorney works to reopen his asylum case. Among Siahaan’s arguments is that he could be tortured for his Christian beliefs in majority-Muslim Indonesia.

Grimm told attorneys that if Siahaan is deported to Indonesia and the Board of Immigration Appeals later determines that he is entitled to relief under the United Nations Convention Against Torture, it would be “impossible” to give that protection to him.

Grimm, who held his hearing virtually because of the coronavirus pandemic, added: “He can’t get the relief. It’s gone.”

Siahaan, 52, has lived in the U.S. for three decades. He immigrated legally to work as a chauffer at the Indonesian embassy but overstayed his visa. He unsuccessfully applied for asylum in 2003.

Immigration authorities took Siahaan into custody in 2012. He was placed on an order of supervision until February, when it was revoked and Siahaan was detained again. He was released in April as “a function of covid-19,” Grimm said.

On Sept. 10, immigration authorities arrested Siahaan outside his home on the grounds of Glenmont United Methodist Church in Silver Spring. The father of two U.S. citizen children works at the church with his wife.

It is not illegal to detain immigrants on the property of a house of worship, but it is against ICE policy except in very rare circumstances. This has prompted immigrants to seek relief from deportation at churches.

As of July 2019, more than 40 immigrants lived in sanctuary at houses of worship across the U.S., up from three in 2015. The increase came as ICE intensified enforcement actions.

The agency sent letters to some of those in sanctuary last year threatening them with huge fines. The fine for one woman living in a church in Virginia was calculated to be at least $214,132, while that of a woman in Ohio was estimated at $497,777.

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Garcia Cano reported from Washington.

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This story has been corrected to show the last name of the Indonesian man is Siahaan.

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