U.S. District Judge Paul Grimm ruled Oct. 9 that a Silver Spring resident cannot be deported by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement until a court processes his religious asylum request.
Binsar Siahaan, an undocumented immigrant from Indonesia, was detained by ICE agents at Glenmont United Methodist Church in Silver Spring, where he lives with his wife and two children. His arrest has sparked outrage from several faith-based groups in the D.C. area who argue that ICE violated policy by conducting an arrest on church grounds and for falsely claiming to be there to check his ankle monitor.
“ICE cannot simply proceed with removal while Siahaan has pending a motion to exercise his statutory right to seek reopening of his asylum claim,” Grimm wrote in a memorandum opinion. “Removal in this instance, thwarting his ability to realize any benefit from a successful motion, is very likely arbitrary and capricious”
Siahaan, who immigrated to the U.S. on a work visa in 1989 and remained after it expired, was denied asylum when he first filed in 2003. His attorneys said this was due to bad advice from an “ineffective attorney who was later disbarred” and that the devout Christian would face persecution in Muslim-majority Indonesia if forced to return.
Upon his arrest on Sept. 10, Siahaan was swiftly transported to the Lumpkin County Detention Center in Georgia, which has recently gained media attention due to allegations of forced hysterectomies. Grimm’s decision gives ICE two days to move Siahaan to a detention center in Maryland, where his lawyers hope to make a case for his release.
“ICE has expressed a callous disregard for the well-being of human beings that they are detaining,” said Patrick Taurel, Siahaan’s attorney. “I’m worried about Mr. Siahaan just like I’m worried about everybody else who’s in ICE custody right now.”
Rev. Kara Scroggins, who works at the church where Siahaan lives and works as a caretaker, said she will continue to organize for Siahaan’s release from custody. Scroggins also said she plans to use this momentum to advocate for a law prohibiting ICE arrests in places of worship, schools and other “sanctuary” places.
“Being a safe space, a sacred space, and offering hospitality are pretty basic to the calling, as well as standing with people who are victims of injustice,” Scorggins said.
Following Siahaan’s arrest, Scroggins partnered with organizations like Sanctuary DMV and the Congregation Action Network to organize calls to Congress members, distribute petitions and organize two protests to advocate for Siahaan’s release.
Rep. Raskin, Sens. Van Hollen and David Trone, D-M.D., have all released statements expressing concern about Siahaan’s arrest. Scroggins said they have also been helpful “behind the scenes,” offering support to Siahaan’s defense team and following up with her via phone.
“They’ve been helping to get information from their inner ICE contacts,” Scroggins said. “They’ve been supportive and we’re keeping pressure on them to put themselves on the line, politically. “
Alexa Klein-Mayer, a fellow at Congressional Action Network, said Siahaan’s case has “national implications” and could set a dangerous precedent of ICE agents disregarding policy to arrest people “in sanctuary.” She said her team is currently on standby to ensure that ICE honors its obligations to return Siahaan.
“Our next step is to see if ICE returns him to Maryland before evaluating what more we can do to get him out of detention,” Klein-Mayer said. “Right now, we’re on standby.”
Taurel and Scroggins both said they are waiting for Siahaan’s return so they can make a case for his release back to his family. Taurel said he hopes that ICE voluntarily releases Siahaan due to “public pressure,” but is prepared to make a case for it in the event that they don’t.
“The whole purpose of detaining somebody like Siahaan is to make sure that they are present at the moment of removal,” Taurel said. “The moment of removal for him is not imminent, because we have a judge’s order saying they can’t remove him until we get a decision and God knows when that will come.”