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A federal judge in Boston ruled Monday that her court has jurisdiction over a case brought by a group of illegal immigrants living in New Hampshire challenging their impending removal.
Chief U.S. District Judge Patti Saris ordered immigration officials to delay the planned deportation of 51 Indonesian Christians, who claim it is too dangerous to return to their Muslim-majority homeland. It was the second reprieve Saris, a former President Bill Clinton appointee, has granted in the case. The judge put the deportations on hold while she determined if the court had the authority to take up the case.
A lawyer representing the Indonesians called the decision “enormously significant.”
“It reaffirms the central role of the federal courts in ensuring that there is a fair process when someone’s life may be at stake,” said Lee Gelernt, of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, according to the Associated Press.
The Indonesian Christians in question fled their home country two decades ago and have been living openly in New Hampshire under a 2010 deal brokered by Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Most members of the group had entered the United States legally but overstayed their visas and failed to apply for asylum, reports Reuters.
This summer, immigration officials began to notify the Indonesians that they should make preparations to leave the country within two months. They challenged the deportation orders, claiming they would face persecution or violence for their faith and Chinese ethnicity if they were returned to Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority country.
Federal law gives authority over immigration appeals to courts operated by the executive branch. But Saris and other federal judges have ruled that U.S. district courts can intervene in deportation cases to ensure defendants have time to argue that conditions in their home countries have become too dangerous.
In a case similar to the Indonesians’ appeal, a federal judge in Michigan ruled he had the authority to block the deportation of Iraqi Christians who had challenged their removal.
The government has already appealed Saris’ earlier ruling to the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and is likely to challenge Monday’s decision.
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