The plight of Sujitno Sajuti has become a sign of our times. It has been a difficult situation, forcing an endurance test that was not deserved, and though a sigh of relief can greet the outcome the resolution is not necessarily something in which to take American pride.
Threatened in October 2017 with deportation by U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement agents, Sajuti sought sanctuary where sanctuary has long been available — a church. In this case it was a local church, the Unitarian Universalist Church on Paddock Ave. in Meriden. He lived there with his wife, Dahlia, for 598 days.
In case your arithmetic is rusty, that’s not all that far from two years. Two years of living in a church, certainly not a bad location but it’s also not home. Sajuti’s home is in West Hartford.
His story is a familiar one in an American era in which accommodation and good will is in short supply when it comes to legal status.
Sajuti came to the U.S. in 1981 on a student visa and Fulbright fellowship. He studied at Columbia University. He returned to Indonesia in 1984, then came back to the U.S. five years later to continue his studies. In what turned out to be a significant event concerning his status later on, he was assaulted during an armed robbery in 1995, according to an attorney with the New Haven Legal Association.
In 2011 Sajuti was detained by ICE and held in custody for two months. From 2013 to 2016 he was on a stay of removal, but in July 2017 his application for a stay of removal was denied. That set him up for deportation, and that’s when he sought church sanctuary.
He was recently granted deferred action, based on his eligibility for a type of relief for survivors of certain crimes. And that’s when it became safe for him to leave his sanctuary.
There are those who see victory in his return to the world outside the church, and it’s hard not to feel grateful for a resolution that was too long in coming. But there are also others who will say that rules are rules. The American unease with the question that holds grace on one side and enforcement on the other is exemplified by Sajuti’s experience. It appears that his sad story, at least, has come to an end.