An undocumented immigrant who was arrested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents on the grounds of a Montgomery County church last month was released from custody Thursday.
A federal judge in Maryland issued a ruling on Oct. 2 that prevents Binsar Siahaan, an undocumented Indonesian immigrant who was working at Glenmont United Methodist Church as a caretaker, from being removed from the country until he has a chance to seek religious asylum.
Siahaan had been at a detention center in Georgia while awaiting the court’s order, but U.S. District Judge Paul Grimm’s order states that Siahaan must be sent back to ICE custody in Maryland. Siahaan arrived in downtown Baltimore on Thursday, where immigration authorities decided to release him back to his family, Patrick Taurel, one of Siahaan’s attorneys, said.
“The purpose of ICE detaining him was to try to facilitate his removal,” he said. “They were going to try to get him out of the country in a matter of days or weeks.”
During the month that Siahaan was detained in Georgia, faith-based activists held demonstrations in front of the Baltimore ICE office and drafted petitions urging the agency to release Siahaan.
Without Grimm’s order, issued in U.S. District Court in Maryland, ICE could have deported Siahaan even though he has a pending motion for religious asylum, Taurel said. Grimm halted Siahaan’s deportation by issuing a preliminary injunction that precludes ICE from taking him out of the country until the Board of Immigration Appeals makes a decision on Siahaan’s request to reopen his asylum case.
Siahaan has been living in the United States for three decades with his wife and two children, who are U.S. citizens. In 1989, he arrived to work for Indonesian diplomats and overstayed his visa, which ended in 1990. While seeking legal status in the early 2000s, Siahaan was misadvised by a lawyer who did not properly advance his asylum claim, according to Taurel, and Siahaan was eventually charged with a final removal order in 2006. This meant that ICE officials had legal authority to remove Siahaan from the country — but not that they immediately had to.
In 2012, ICE detained Siahaan but allowed him to remain in the country so as long as he regularly reported to ICE on an Order of Supervision, meaning that they were deferring his removal, Taurel said. But in February, ICE suddenly removed Siahaan’s Order of Supervision and took him into custody. In March, Siahaan quickly filed a motion to reopen his asylum case from the early 2000s and ICE released him with an ankle monitor in April as he awaited a decision.
While Siahaan was still waiting to hear back, ICE agents came to Siahaan’s home on the church grounds in early September, saying that they needed to check his ankle monitor. When Siahaan let ICE authorities inside, they arrested him and took him to a detention facility in Baltimore, and then later to a detention center in Georgia, which is notoriously known as a place of last detention before deportation, Taurel said.
The motion to reopen Siahaan’s asylum case, which had been first denied in 2006, is still pending at the Board of Immigration Appeals. It can take anywhere from a few months to over a year to hear back, Taurel said.
The Trump administration has tried to make it more challenging for people to seek asylum in the United States. The federal government has been trying to remove Iraqi Christians in Michigan since 2017 and have targeted Indonesian Christians living in central New Jersey, for example.
“This is the year of Voldemort for immigration enforcement,” Taurel said.
If Siahaan’s appeal is granted, the Board of Immigration Appeals will send Siahaan’s case to the Immigration Court, where he will have a chance to ask the immigration judge for asylum. If not granted, Siahaan will have an opportunity to appeal a second time to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit — which covers Maryland, Taurel said.
“It is possible he could still be removed…but we’re optimistic that it’ll be granted because it’s a really strong motion to reopen,” Taurel said. “Circumstances are dramatically different in Indonesia than when he first sought asylum. It is much more dangerous there for Christians now.”