Undocumented immigrant has spent one year as refugee in Meriden church

MERIDEN – For a full year, undocumented immigrant Sujitno Sajuti has lived within the walls of Unitarian Universalist Church while lawyers search for options.

In recognition, the Paddock Avenue church hosted a one year observance for the Indonesian native and Fulbright scholar, who was ordered by Immigration and Customs Enforcement to board a plane back to Indonesia on the morning of October 10, 2017 after his request for stay was denied. Instead, the 68-year-old Sajuti sought refuge at the church with his wife Dahlia.

The observance Tuesday night included group prayer and a lecture on the legal obstacles undocumented immigrants face.

”It’s not fair,” said Sajuti, who has been in the U.S. since 1981. “But it’s not that difficult. I’m used to it now.”

Sajuti said his time in the church feels more like a “staycation” than house arrest.

He arrived in the U.S. in 1981 on a student visa. He elected to stay after the visa expired and was detained by ICE in 2011, remaining in custody for two months. He had been on a stay of removal since 2013.

Fortunately for Sajuti, who was living in West Hartford, the Unitarian Universalist Church was finalizing its declaration as a sanctuary just as Sajuti’s time was running out.

“We anticipated having a few weeks to figure things out, and less than a week later we get a call that Sujitno was going to be deported,” said Nancy Burton, coordinator of the Chalice Sanctuary Team at the church. “It was 4:30 in the afternoon. We had a conference call at 8:30 and he arrived at 11:30 that night. We brought in cots and sheets from home and figured out what we were doing after the fact.”

Burton and the sanctuary team designated a private area for Sajuti on the second floor of the church, making it impossible for ICE to enter without a federal warrant. In his room. Sajuti prays multiple times a day and reads to pass the time.

“He hasn’t set a toe outdoors in a year,” Burton said. “He’s chosen not to take that risk.”

Despite the restrictions, Sajuti remains positive. He rarely gets a sentence out without a chuckle in between.

“ICE is made up of people, just like immigrants,” Sajuti said. “They’re all human beings. If I get angry, I ask God to forgive me. If someone else hurts me, I forgive them. It’s not easy, but I practice it every day.”

Sajuti watches the news in small doses, enough to keep him informed, but not enough to subdue his positive attitude.

“I get a glimpse and I see the cruelty out there,” he said. “I’m not strong enough to face that. I think God wants me here.”

Twitter: @ryanchichester1

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