Rev. Seth Kaper-Dale, co-pastor of the Reformed Church of Highland Park, NJ, has become either a hero or a criminal, depending on who you talk to. Kaper-Dale, whose wife, Stephanie, is co-pastor of the church, did not intend to become the defiant hero for Indonesian Christian immigrants who fled persecution in the midst of chaos that followed the collapse of the Suharto regime in 1998.
When he and his wife were hired by church elders in 2001, he learned many of his parishioners were Indonesian. Virtually all had overstayed tourist visas given out by American officials apparently concerned about the attacks on Christians in the world's most populous Islamic country. The minister encouraged the immigrants to try to normalize their status -- but then deportations began and Kaper-Dale felt a sense of personal, as well as pastoral, responsibility. "It just proves the point that those who follow the rules, who register, who let people know they're here -- they're more likely to be deported than those who hide," says Kaper-Dale.
Immigration officials have labeled the people seeking sanctuary in Kaper-Dale's church "egregious immigration offenders" and insist they be deported, but they haven't breached the tradition of not raiding places of worship. Earlier this week, however, one parishioner was arrested and deported. Kaper-Dale had denied him sanctuary; he had just left Sunday services at the church.
So what makes these people "egregious immigration offenders"? What happened to "Give me your tired, your poor"? Not only are those who have been given sanctuary considered "egregious offenders", the minister himself faces possible charges of conspiracy to violate the nation's immigration laws.
The minister claims to be following a higher law.