Raymond Eman is many things: taxpayer, husband, father, church elder, nurse’s aide, organizer of badminton tournaments and, until Tuesday, inmate at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma.
Eman, 48, is one of at least four Indonesian natives from Everett fighting U.S. government efforts to deport them. There are dozens more from the Puget Sound area.
Many are members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and, according to legal papers, they fear religious persecution in Indonesia because of their Christian beliefs.
Eman came to the United States on a tourist visa in 1985 and stayed after he was to return. He and his wife settled in the Northwest and have two children who were born in the United States. The family lives near Silver Lake.
“They have a credible fear of persecution,” said Albert Lum, a Pasadena, Calif., attorney who has represented Eman and dozens of other Indonesian immigrants in Western Washington. He withdrew from Eman’s case after Eman’s release this week.
Indonesia is a country of more than 200 million people with religious tensions that, at times, have erupted into violence during the past decade.
In 2005, three teenage Christian girls were beheaded and a fourth was seriously wounded on their way to school. The murders occurred in Central Sulawesi, a province of a bloody religious war in 2001-02 where about 1,000 Muslims and Christians were killed. Elsewhere, churches have been burned to the ground.
Herry Korompis, an Indonesian immigrant and U.S. citizen living in Seattle, said there can be calm periods of religious tolerance, but there always is fear of upheaval among Christians. Families with American-born children forced to return could feel particularly vulnerable, said Korompis, who attends church with Eman.
Eighty-eight percent of Indonesians are Muslim. About 6 percent are Protestant and 3 percent Catholic. The rest are a mix of other religions and faiths.
Eman’s relatives in Indonesia were fearful of harm during the 1998 riots in the country’s capital of Jakarta and have been threatened by Muslim extremists, Lum said.
It could be a tough sell for Eman and others to remain in the United States. The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in California rejected Eman’s argument of religious persecution in a November 2008 ruling. It upheld a ruling by the Board of Immigration Appeals in Virginia saying Eman did not establish a clear probability that he would be persecuted if he returned to Indonesia.
“The record does not compel the conclusion that the religious strife in Indonesia amounts to a pattern or practice of persecution against Christian Indonesians,” the judges ruled.
Eman, his family and his friends believe he came within hours of being deported last week. Instead, and unexpectedly, he and two other Indonesians living in Everett were released.
“He was released pending further review of his case,” said Lorie Dankers, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Tacoma. Dankers said she couldn’t provide additional comment.
Supporters of the Indonesian immigrants speculate that the release could be related to an arrangement reached between a church and immigration officials in New Jersey.
The New York Times reported Dec. 12 of an unusual compact between a pastor and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials in Newark, N.J. Under the agreement, four Indonesians were released from a New Jersey detention facility and 41 others living as fugitives from deportation turned themselves in under church auspices.
“Instead of being jailed — as hundreds of thousands of immigrants without criminal records have been in recent years — they have been released on orders of supervision, eligible for work permits while their lawyers consider how their cases might be reopened,” The Times reported.
That’s exactly what happened in Eman’s case. Eman was detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Nov. 3 on an expired visa. He spent more than 45 days in the Tacoma detention facility, meeting with his family and church members but separated by a window.
Eman arrived in the United States on a tourist visa in June 1985 and was never granted permanent residency.
He and his wife began seeking legal residency after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. Each time — before an immigration judge in Seattle, the Bureau of Immigration Appeals in Virginia, and the 9th Circuit — his case was rejected.
Members of the Washington Indonesian Seventh-day Adventist Church in Lynnwood continue to rally and pray for Eman and his family. His children, ages 11 and 8 and both U.S. citizens since they were born in this country, attend a Seventh-day Adventist school in Everett.
While at the detention center in Tacoma, Eman received a steady stream of visitors from his church. John Freedman, a pastor and president of the 21,000-member Seventh-day Adventist Western Washington Conference, wrote a letter to an immigration judge urging “leniency and mercy.”
Eman’s release made for a special Christmas.
Instead of being placed on a one-way flight to Djakarta, he celebrated the holiday with his wife and children in their Silver Lake apartment and attended church services Saturday.
“That,” he said, “was my son’s only Christmas wish. He wanted his Daddy home for Christmas.”
“You can’t imagine how it felt,” Eman said. “I was saying, ‘Thank you, Lord, I don’t know how it happened. I praise you and I can be with my kids. I don’t need anything. I can be with my family now.’”
His release is a reprieve but not a guarantee he will be able to stay.
Eman will continue to live with the knowledge he can be deported at any time along with the nagging fear of prolonged separation from his family.
“I never thought I’m going to bring my kids to Indonesia,” he said. “I don’t want to put my kids in danger. For my kids, it is very unsafe.”
Reporter Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446, firstname.lastname@example.org.