A 68-year-old West Hartford man who had been ordered to return to his native Indonesia instead sought sanctuary in a Meriden church Tuesday, the third undocumented immigrant to do so in Connecticut this year.
Sujitno Sajuti, who came to the United States in 1981 as a Fulbright scholar and overstayed his visa, had until Tuesday to leave the country. Sajuti earned a master’s degree at Columbia University and returned to Indonesia before re-entering the country in 1989 to pursue a Ph.D at UConn. His visa expired during his tenure at UConn and, rather than returning to Indonesia, Sajuti stayed in West Hartford.
For the past several decades Sajuti has taught Indonesian and Koranic studies at local mosques and community centers.
A federal judge ordered Sajuti to leave the country in 2003, and in 2011, Sajuti was arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, and detained for 67 days before being released. Sajuti received temporary stays until this year, when in August his last request for a stay was denied.
Sajuti and his wife, Dahlia, entered Unitarian Universalist Church in Meriden Monday night, not knowing when they’d be able to leave. The church’s minister, Jan Carlsson-Bull, received a call a few hours earlier asking if Sajuti could take sanctuary in her church. Alarmed by the Trump administration’s crackdown on longtime residents like Sajuti, she agreed.
“If he steps off this church, his sanctuary status will be in danger,” Carlsson-Bull said. ICE agents are discouraged by internal policy from making arrests in schools, hospitals or houses of worship.
Carlsson-Bull stressed that her church will not offer Sajuti sanctuary indefinitely. “We’re not trying to obstruct ICE,” she said. “He’s not going to spend the rest of his life here.” Her church will remain a refuge as long as there are legal avenues for Sajuti to pursue residency, she said.
“In an exercise of discretion at the time, ICE chose not to place Mr. Sajuti into custody and allowed him ample time, and numerous stays of removal, to pursue legal options to resolve his case,” Shawn Neudauer, an ICE spokesman, said in a statement. “He has since exhausted these options and in August he was given instructions to provide evidence he intends to depart the United States in compliance with the judge's removal (deportation) order. Mr. Sajuti did not leave the United States per the court's instructions and is now considered an ICE fugitive."
Two other Connecticut immigrants have sought refuge in churches after defying deportation orders. One — Marco Reyes Alvarez, a Meriden father of three and Ecuadorian national — remains in First and Summerfield Church in New Haven, two months after entering its doors. Nury Chavarria, a Guatemalan native and single mother of four, took sanctuary for six days in Iglesia de Dios Pentecostal in Fair Haven before being granted an emergency stay.