BOSTON (Reuters) - A federal judge on Wednesday signalled she may extend an order preventing the deportation of roughly 50 Indonesian Christians living illegally in New Hampshire, a process that immigration officials began after U.S. President Donald Trump took office.
U.S. District Judge Patti Saris in Boston expressed concern the Indonesians could be deported before their administrative appeals were finished, given their claims they could face religious persecution in the world’s largest majority-Muslim nation.
The Indonesians’ lawyers argued for an injunction that would give them time to file motions to reopen their immigration cases based on changed conditions in Indonesia.
“We don’t want to put them on a ship back unless someone has had chance to look at if there’s a really bad situation for them,” Saris said. “That’s my concern.”
The case centres on a group of Indonesians who fled that country during violence two decades ago and had been allowed to live openly in New Hampshire under an informal deal with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials.
That changed after Trump ordered an end to that kind of programme in his push to tighten immigration enforcement.
The Indonesians are part of an ethnic community of about 2,000 people clustered around Dover, New Hampshire. Most members of the group covered by the 2010 deal with ICE entered the county legally but overstayed their visas and failed to seek asylum on time.
Federal officials contend they have always had the authority to deport them at any time.
“There’s no legal basis for them to ask for more time,” Vinita Andrapalliyal, a U.S. Justice Department lawyer, argued in court on Wednesday.
Federal law gives authority over immigration matters to the executive branch, not the courts.
Over the Justice Department’s objections, Saris last year ruled she had jurisdiction over the case. She entered a temporary order blocking the Indonesians’ deportation until she could decide whether to impose a preliminary injunction.
Ronaldo Rauseo-Ricupero, a lawyer for the Indonesians, argued they should have 90 days to move to reopen their cases after receiving copies of their administrative case files and time to appeal any decision rejecting those motions.
Saris in October ordered immigration officials to provide the immigrants’ lawyers with the files so they could start their administrative appeals. The files are expected to be finished being turned over by next month, Saris said.
Reporting by Nate Raymond and Scott Malone in Boston; Editing by Andrew Hay