Senator Introduces Bill to Protect Indonesian Christians in US

Posted June 27th, 2012 at 1:45 am (UTC-5)
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A U.S. senator has introduced legislation that would allow Indonesian Christians living in the United States to apply for asylum on the grounds of religious persecution in their homeland.

The bill from Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey aims to help the hundreds of Indonesian Christians who came to the U.S. on tourist visas, mostly between the years of 1996 and 2003. Religious persecution intensified during that period, with more than 1,000 churches being destroyed by anti-Christian extremists.

The immigrants, who mostly settled in northeast U.S. states such as New Jersey, New York and New Hampshire, now face deportation after deadlines passed for them to seek asylum.

Senator Lautenberg tells VOA that his measure is intended to halt the deportation process long enough for the individuals to apply for asylum and have their cases considered.

“They have a lot to contribute. They're energetic people – we've seen it. They're working, they're part of the community. But they also happened to miss a deadline. And, that kind of a mishap should not prevent good people from being here.”

Lautenberg says he is trying to convince his fellow lawmakers that the bill is not an amnesty program, but only a continuation of what he says is the United States' history of protecting refugees from persecution.

“We just have to make sure that people understand what we're doing, We're not opening a flood-gate or anything like that. But we do want to show that America still cares about those people who are prosecuted or harassed through no fault of their own.”

Lautenberg's bill was introduced into the Senate on Monday. A companion bill is working its way through the House of Representatives.