Harry Pangemanen never intended to bring statewide notoriety to Highland Park. His only intention was to do the right thing. He has been doing the right thing for decades in New Jersey – including leading a team of volunteers rebuilding more than 200 homes in Monmouth and Ocean counties devastated by superstorm Sandy.
The statewide and even national notoriety, however, came a week later on Thursday, January 25, 2017, when U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents came to his house in an attempt to take him away from his family. He eluded ICE agents outside his Highland Park home, and was escorted to the Reformed Church of Highland Park, where he joined three other Indonesian Christians in sanctuary.
Gov. Phil Murphy on Thursday rushed to RCHP, which for years has provided sanctuary for immigrants. At the church, the governor met with individuals who have taken up sanctuary there, including Harry, who avoided detention by not answering his door. On the same morning that Harry successfully escaped detainment, Gunawan Liem, of Franklin Park, and Roby Sanger, of Metuchen, were detained as they dropped their kids off at school Thursday morning, according to Rev. Seth Kaper-Dale of the Reformed Church of Highland Park.
The governor, along with US Congressman Frank Pallone, came to the church to condemn unequivocally the effort to detain a handful of non-criminal, unauthorized Christian Indonesian immigrants who are caught in a nightmarish conundrum of remaining unauthorized in the United States versus returning home to face unbearable religious persecution.
“Like my ancestors, Harry came to America to escape religious persecution and death. My ancestors were Jews in Europe. Harry and his wife were Christians in Indonesia. They built a home and are raising their children here in Highland Park.
Harry has been an active contributor to Highland Park’s well-being. He cares about all of New Jersey. He organized workers to voluntarily repair shore homes of Hurricane Sandy victims.
Harry was the “lucky” one today. Two other Indonesian Christians from Metuchen and Franklin Park were picked up by ICE officers after taking their children to school this morning.
I want to thank Congressman Pallone, Governor Murphy, Metuchen Mayor Jonathan Jonathan M. Busch, HP Schools Superintendent Scott Taylor, School Board President Darcie Cimarusti, Councilman Matthew B. Hersh, NAACP area President Bruce S. Morgan, all the concerned citizens of Highland Park and Metuchen for coming out today in support of our Indonesian population. And, of course, thanks go out to Pastor Seth Kaper-Dale for his steady commitment to justice and humanity,” said Highland Park Mayor Gayle Brill Mittler.
Borough Council member Matthew Hersh, who chairs the Council’s Health and Human Services Committee and was chair of the Immigration and Refugee Task Force, made the following points:
Our residents like Harry are not criminals. They are taxpayers, law-abiding residents and are here because they are fleeing violent religious persecution. Their children are citizens, but they themselves cannot find a path to legal residency, because there is none. Decades of horrible, incoherent, shortsighted policies and lack of any vision on the national level have left our communities with the humane responsibility to pick up the pieces. As caring members of society, we must protect our neighbors. We have no choice. And we must do more than react. We must be working proactively to put sensible policies in place that reflect the humanitarian values of our nation.”