Civics Lesson

By John Gehring — May 17, 2005 1 min read

Students from a Philadelphia charter school traveled to Washington last week to lobby members of Congress for help for a 1st grader whose Indonesian family faces deportation.

"Tasha" Suglanto is facing deportation.

Angelina Lusaka Sugianto—friends call her Tasha— arrived in Philadelphia six years ago, at the age of 1, with her family. Her Catholic parents fled Indonesia, according to their lawyer and the school’s principal, after Muslim extremists attacked their home with large firecrackers, and a mob stormed a church where they worshipped. The family argues it would face similar harassment if forced to return to Indonesia.

Immigrants seeking asylum in the United States must file a request within one year of arrival. But an initial request was mishandled by someone helping the family, and the deadline was missed. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ asylum office in Lyndhurst, N.J., and the Executive Office for Immigration Review in Philadelphia both turned down the family’s application because of the missed deadline.

The case is now pending before the federal Board of Immigration Appeals in Falls Church, Va.

Jurate Krokys, the principal of the 500-student Independence Charter School, said students have written more than 1,000 letters in support of the Sugianto family.

“We wanted to do something to help,” said Ms. Krokys, who in the 1980s was a political activist supporting an independent Lithuania. “It seemed natural for us because our school is about preparing students to become citizens of the world.”

On May 12, Ms. Krokys traveled to Capitol Hill with seven 6th graders to hand-deliver 500 student letters each to Pennsylvania’s U.S. senators, Arlen Specter and Rick Santorum, both Republicans.

“We want human rights for [Tasha],” a 4th grader named Kaitlyn wrote to Sen. Santorum. “They want to stay in Philadelphia and not go back to a place where they know they will be harassed. They came all the way here for freedom.”

Judith Bernstein-Baker, the family’s lawyer, said it’s hard to know whether the lobbying effort will help.

“Legally, it’s a tough case,” she said. “But these kids really believe in America, and all the good things about our country.”