MERIDEN — About 50 community members gathered at the Unitarian Universalist Church on Paddock Avenue Wednesday for a roundtable discussion on immigration with U. S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal and undocumented West Hartford resident Sujitno Sajuti, who has not left the church in over a month after taking sanctuary from deportation.
Blumenthal started the discussion by noting Thanksgiving is about family, giving a sense of urgency to the struggle to keep families of undocumented immigrants together.
“We have to continue the fight for immigration reform,” Blumenthal said. “The change in policy that has been implemented by (President Donald Trump’s) administration is to deport people who are here peacefully … They have lived here, abided by the laws, worked hard. Now this administration has changed the policy, in my view, irrationally, cruelly and inhumanely.”
Originally from Indonesia, Sajuti, 68, is a former Fulbright scholar who has been in the country over 30 years after overstaying a visa. Unable to leave the church, Sajuti spends his days in study and prayer.
“I am positive,” Sajuti said.
During the discussion, several people shared personal stories, including New Britain resident Mariano Cardoso, whose father is scheduled to be deported Dec. 15. Cardoso said he used to be reluctant to share his story, but can no longer stay silent.
“I didn’t know that my story meant anything and at the time I was very afraid to even share it with my closest friends,” Cardoso said.
Diane Syzmaszek said more needs to be done to combat misunderstandings about obtaining legal status and the perception that immigrants take away opportunities from others.
For Portland resident Henry Strom, economics is also an issue.
“We’re really just losing resources. So many of the people that come here add to the fabric of our society,” Strom said. “We need all the people that come to this country. My grandparents were immigrants and they added to the society. We need these resources.”
Blumenthal agreed, noting that immigration reform “would enhance our country’s wealth.”
Nancy Burton said the success of her family would have been impossible had her grandfather not emigrated from Ireland illegally. Unlike undocumented immigrants today though, ”there was a pathway for him,” Burton said.
Church member Cindy Ferugson said she hoped the discussion on immigration continues.
“I think there needs to be more of it across the country,” Ferguson said.