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ICE Agents Accused of Vandalizing Immigrant’s Home After He Claimed Sanctuary in Church

Agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) stand accused of vandalizing an Indonesian immigrant’s home after he gave them the slip by taking shelter in a church.

On Thursday morning, ICE agents detained two fathers as they dropped their children off at school while a third father eluded capture by claiming sanctuary at the Reformed Church of Highland Park in New Jersey.

Two Indonesian men, Gunawan Liem of Piscataway and Roby Sanger of Metuchen, were captured by ICE around 8:00 a.m. on Thursday. Liem was governmentally abducted after dropping off his daughter off at her bus stop. Sanger was similarly rounded up after bringing his daughters directly to school.

Harry Pangemanan, however, noticed an unmarked ICE vehicle creeping towards his own car that same morning and swiftly ran inside as he was about to back out of his driveway.

Pangemanan then told his daughter that she would have to walk to high school that day. Next, he phoned Reverend Seth Kaper-Dale, who came to pick Pangemanan up and take him into the church. As Kaper-Dale arrived, he filmed the ICE agents knocking on Pangemanan’s door.

During a Facebook Live video of the incident, Kaper-Dale said, “ICE decides that they want to take the guy that just won the MLK award for repairing 209 houses during Hurricane Sandy and assault and threaten him.”

Pangemanan was officially recognized for his work rebuilding those 209 homes by the Borough of Highland Park just days before ICE’s black jackets came knocking. Then, of course, the agents came. Three Indonesian men were targeted on the same morning, but after local reports on the incident, ICE issued a statement claiming their raids are not “based on religion, ethnicity, gender or race.”

While Pangemenan took shelter, his own children, along with those of Liem and Sanger, were left to wonder what happened to their fathers. Eventually Pangemanan’s daughters, both U.S. citizens, were reunited with their father under the spire and safety of the church.

The Pangemanan children returned home at around 7:30 p.m. on Friday night. The front door was busted open and their home was thoroughly ransacked. Ammos Caley, an associate pastor at the church who escorted the children home, described the scene. He said:

They were completely turned upside down. The closet in the hallway where all of the coats are was torn up. To me it felt like sending a message of some sort or like they were looking for something non-money wise.

Additionally, the home of Arthur Jemmy and Silfia Tobing–Indonesian Christians who have been holed up taking sanctuary at the church since Octobter 2017–was also vandalized, prompting advocates to suggest ICE agents may have taken part in the attacks on immigrants’ homes.

In a Facebook post, Kaper-Dale made clear who he blamed for the property destruction. He wrote:

I believe that this is coordinated attacks by ICE–the abusive arm of our out of control Administration…Two of the families in sanctuary have had their homes broken into and ransacked while they have been in sanctuary. Abuse, abuse, abuse…Trump, gets [sic] your filthy hands off our people.

Kaper-Dale previously received a phone call from an ICE spokesperson requesting that he stop verbally attacking ICE’s Newark Field Director John Tsoukaris “because he and his family feel threatened.”

Kaper-Dale reportedly laughed off that request and noted the incongruity of ICE officials complaining about being threatened when they regularly threaten undocumented immigrants.

In an interview with Steph Solis, Pangemanan said, while not blaming anyone in particular:

They started destroying my children’s lives…My oldest daughter said to me last night, ‘I don’t have anymore safe spaces for myself.’

For their part, ICE denied the accusations. Spokeswoman Jennifer Elzea issued an emailed statement to media, which reads, in part, “ICE law enforcement officers carry out their sworn duties daily with the utmost professionalism, in accordance with their training. To suggest that they would cause intentional harm to property is irresponsible and spreads undue fear in the community which this individual claims to support.”

In the aftermath of ICE’s school-adjacent raids, Pangemanan’s taking of shelter at Kaper-Dale’s church, and the apparently concomitant vandalism of multiple immigrants’ homes, New Jersey officials have taken notice and spoken out in favor of those being targeted by the federal government’s immigrant round up infrastructure.

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal was so disturbed by the story that he penned an open letter to U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen M. Nielsen chastising ICE for an apparent violation of internal policy. He wrote:

Here, the fact that ICE arrested two parents as they were driving away from their children’s school is deeply upsetting. I’m not aware of any exigent or unique circumstances here that would justify such a departure from ICE’s settled policy on sensitive locations. Undoubtedly, this creates a chilling environment for parents, who were simply ensuring that their children arrived to school safely. I trust that you will personally evaluate the circumstances surrounding this enforcement action and take any and all appropriate measures to remedy any violation of ICE policy.

In addition, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy and U.S. Representative Frank Pallone (D-NJ) have recently shown up to the Reformed Church of Highland Park for photo ops with the sanctuary-claiming immigrants there. Both men have pledged their support to Pangemanan and the others currently residing in the tenuous sanctuary of the neighborhood church.

[image via John Moore/Getty Images]

Follow Colin Kalmbacher on Twitter: @colinkalmbacher

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