MERIDEN — Now over 100 days into his stay at Unitarian Universalist Church, Indonesian immigrant Sujitno Sajuti stays busy with prayer, reading, and visits from friends.
The 69-year-old has been in sanctuary at the Paddock Avenue church since Oct. 9, when his last request for stay was denied and Immigration and Customs Enforcement moved forward with deportation orders.
Friends and supporters gathered at the church Friday evening to show solidarity.
“Prayer doesn’t mean anything if you don’t take action,” Sajuti told those gathered. “Thank you, thank you for all that you have done.”
Rev. Paul Fleck, of the Hamden Plains United Methodist Church, lead the more than 50 community members gathered in a song expressing resilience.
“We resist, we refuse to let hatred in. We rise up, we won’t back down, we’re in this to the end,” the chorus rang.
Universalist Church pastor Rev. Dr. Jan Carlsson-Bull lead prayer and reminded the packed room to keep supporting immigrants. Other immigrants who have faced the threat of deportation came in solidarity, including Meriden resident Marco Antonio Reyes Alvarez, who was granted temporary reprieve in November.
Until he’s able to leave the church without fear of arrest and deportation, Sajuti spends time praying and reading. The church invites him to participate in activities and he often has visits from friends.
“We do as much as we can to do activities at the church and making sure his needs are met,” Alok Bhatt, community defense coordinator for the Rights Alliance and a good friend of Sajuti, said. “He’s handling it as well or better than most people would.”
In December, Bhatt said Sujitno received certification from the Hartford Police Department, which was needed to apply for a U visa.
The U visa is available to individuals that have been victims of crimes and suffered substantial mental or physical abuse as a result of the crime. Sajuti was the victim of an armed robbery while working at a convenience store in 1995.
Bhatt said New Haven Legal Aid is exploring other options. “There’s been some pretty significant progress in his legal case,” Bhatt said.
Sajuti first came to the United States in 1981 on a Fulbright Scholarship, earning advanced degrees from Columbia University and the University of Connecticut. After overstaying his student visa, Sajuti chose to remain in the United States. He registered with immigrations officials in 2001. After being detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for a period in 2011, he had been granted stays of removal since 2013. He was living in West Hartford until Oct. 9, when ICE moved forward with deportation orders and the Unitarian Universalist Church took him in.