December 21, 2017 / 1:59 AM / 3 months ago

U.S. responds in court fight over illegal Indonesian immigrants

BOSTON (Reuters) - U.S. immigration officials sought to block a federal judge’s order delaying efforts to deport 51 Indonesians living illegally in New Hampshire, saying they have not shown they would face harm if repatriated, court documents on Wednesday showed.

FILE PHOTO: An ethnic Chinese Christian, who fled Indonesia after wide scale rioting and overstayed her visa in the U.S., holds her daughter's hand and a handwritten list of appointments with ICE in Manchester, New Hampshire, U.S., October 13, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyder/File Photo

The U.S. government’s motion in federal court in Boston was in response to a judge’s order last month that found members of the group should be given time to make a case that changed conditions in the southeast Asian nation would make it dangerous for them to return.

“Even if they are removed, petitioners’ generalized evidence of Indonesia’s conditions do not prove that persecution or torture is immediate or likely for each petitioner,” the motion said.

It said the court lacked jurisdiction over their claims, and the immigrants did not state any plausible claims.

The group of ethnic Chinese Christians fled the world’s largest Muslim-majority country following violence that erupted 20 years ago and have been living openly for years in New England under an informal deal reached with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

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. REUTERS/Brian Snyder/File Photo

Beginning in August, members of the group who showed up for ICE check-ins were told to prepare to leave the country, in keeping with U.S. President Donald Trump’s campaign promise to crack down on illegal immigration.

Members of the group have said in interviews with Reuters that they entered the country on tourist visas but overstayed them and failed to seek asylum on time. Several said they fear they would face persecution or violence for their Christian faith and Chinese ethnicity if they were returned to Indonesia.

Federal law gives authority over immigration matters to the executive branch, not the courts, and ICE contends that it has always had authority to deport members of the group.

Chief U.S. District Judge Patti Saris in Boston last month found she had authority to ensure the Indonesians have a chance to argue that conditions in their home country had deteriorated significantly enough to reopen their cases for trying to stay in the United States.

The Indonesians are part of an ethnic community of about 2,000 people clustered around the city of Dover, New Hampshire. Their cause has drawn the support of the state’s all-Democratic congressional delegation, including U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen, and Republican Governor Chris Sununu.

Reporting by Scott Malone; editing by Grant McCool

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