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US judge halts deportation of 50 Indonesian Christians living illegally in New Hampshire

(Reuters/Brian Snyder/File Photo)FILE PHOTO: Demonstrators hold an "Interfaith Prayer Vigil for Immigrant Justice" outside the federal building, where ethnic Chinese Christians who fled Indonesia after wide scale rioting decades ago and overstayed their visas in the U.S. must check-in with ICE, in Manchester, New Hampshire, U.S. on October 13, 2017.

A federal judge has blocked the government's attempt to deport 50 Indonesian Christians who are currently living illegally in New Hampshire to give them time to fight their removal.

U.S. District Judge Patti Saris in Boston said that the Indonesian Christians, who fear persecution if returned home, must be given time to reopen their immigration cases and argue that the situation in their home country has changed.

The group includes people who fled violence in Indonesia two decades ago and had been living openly in New England for years under an informal deal with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

They have been allowed to stay as long as they reported regularly to immigration officials, but they were recently told that to buy plane tickets and prepare to leave the country.

The government had urged the judge to deny the group's request for a preliminary injunction blocking their deportation, arguing that the court does not have jurisdiction over the matter. It also contended that the Indonesians have failed to show that they would suffer irreparable harm if a reprieve is not granted to them.

Some of the Indonesians have said that they fear to return to the Muslim-majority country due to the uptick in intolerance and violence against Christians and other minorities.

Saris gave the group 90 days after they receive paperwork of their prior immigration proceedings to file a motion to reopen their case.

Her order prevents the government from deporting the Indonesians until after Board of Immigration Appeals hands down a decision in their cases and they have a chance to seek a stay in the First U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

"A brief delay in unlawful deportation of residents who have lived here with government permission for over a decade outweighs the public interest in prompt execution of removal orders, where petitioners have been law-abiding and pose no threat to public safety," Saris said in her opinion, as reported by the Associated Press.

The Indonesians filed a lawsuit in September, a month after they began receiving orders to return as they showed up for routine ICE check-ins. They contended that their removals violated their due process rights under the U.S. Constitution, but federal officials said they always had the authority to deport them.

In November, Saris had blocked their deportation until she could consider their request for a preliminary injunction.

The Rev. Sandra Pontoh, pastor of the Madbury Maranatha Indonesian Fellowship in Madbury, New Hampshire, hailed the judge's decision.

"I was hoping the judge would decide to let my friends work on their case for 90 days. That is what we hoped," she said.

"This is wonderful. That means my friends can have time, their lawyers will have more time to work on their cases. This is the last fight for them. In order for them stay here, they have to submit a good case," she added.

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