(CN) - A Protestant Indonesian family might not be deported after the 9th Circuit granted their petition for review, saying the Board of Immigration Appeals failed to recognize that "Christians in Indonesia are a disfavored group," the targets of violence and persecution by Muslim extremists.
Riori Tampubolon and Erlinda Silitonga entered the United States on tourist visas and married in 1995. They have two children, 12 and 14, both U.S. citizens.
The Pasadena-based appeals court agreed with the immigration judge and the BIA that the couple waited too long to apply for asylum.
But the court said the couple might be eligible for withholding of removal based on their Christian faith. Indonesia is nearly 90 percent Muslim; Protestant Christians account for 6 percent of the country's population.
Judge Harry Pregerson said the couple "submitted compelling evidence that Christians in Indonesia are subject to violence and official discrimination."
When President Suharto came into power in the 1990s, he "purged his cabinet and army of Christians and replaced them with fundamentalist Muslims," the ruling states.
"Even after Suharto's regime ended, the military and political elite continued to protect violent Muslim militia groups, such as Laskar Jihad, whose goal is to kill, convert, or drive out all non-Muslims from certain points in Indonesia."
Laskar Jihad "escalated the bilateral Muslim-Christian tensions to a one-sided religious cleansing and slaughter of Christians between 1998 and 2000," according to the ruling.
"The Indonesian government's support of, or at the very least, acquiescence in, militant expressions of Islam has subjected Christians to violent persecution in Indonesia," Pregerson wrote.
Christian churches have been burned, bombed, and vandalized by Muslim extremists, and Muslim extremists allegedly threatened to kill people who attended Silitonga's sister's church in 2000.
The judges said the record clearly shows that Christian Indonesians are a disfavored group. Because the BIA failed to apply disfavored group analysis to the petitioners' withholding claim, the court granted the couple's petition for review and remanded.