An update on this previous Creeping Sharia post: Connecticut: Koran teacher who overstayed visa by 30 years avoids deportation in church.
As evening wore on, Sujitno Sajuti’s life in America was collapsing, slipping away with each tick of the clock. It was Oct. 9, 2017, and earlier that week his request for a stay of deportation had been denied. He was ordered to leave the country by the following day.
Earlier, he had attended a rally for his case in Hartford and given several media interviews. The hope was that he would be granted a last-minute stay of deportation because of the publicity. That didn’t happen. Now a hastily prepared plan had been launched to keep him in the country.
Around 9:30 p.m., Sajuti began to frantically pack up his West Hartford apartment. His wife, Dahlia, was with him and they were joined by Alok Bhatt, an activist and the community defense coordinator with the Connecticut Immigrant Rights Alliance (CIRA). As Sajuti grabbed clothes and essential items, including his checkbook and computer, Bhatt kept checking the time. We should probably go to the church as soon as possible, he thought.
The three of them loaded Bhatt’s small car with several suitcases and white garbage bags filled with clothes. It was tight, but they managed to fit. They drove through the darkness toward the Unitarian Universalist Church in Meriden in search of relief through an ancient custom older than the oldest immigration law — taking sanctuary within a house of worship.
The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement designates churches and other houses of worship, along with schools and hospitals, as “sensitive locations.” ICE agents refrain from making arrests at these sites. This policy has given birth to a sanctuary movement in Connecticut over the past year and a half that has become a rallying cry for the larger immigrant rights movement in the state.
The Rev. Paul Fleck, pastor of Hamden Plains United Methodist Church, and Rabbi Herbert Brockman, who retired earlier this year from Mishkan Israel synagogue in Hamden, joined forces to look for ways to support immigrant communities in the state, a population thought to include at least 100,000 undocumented immigrants. In the winter of 2017, they organized a talk at Mishkan Israel with members of a group that had helped provide sanctuary in houses of worship for New York immigrants. More than 300 people attended. Fleck and Brockman began connecting with people from other congregations and with a wide variety of loosely connected organizations and people working on behalf of immigrants. These included people such as Kica Matos, director of immigrant rights and racial justice at the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Community Change, and organizations like Connecticut Shoreline Indivisible, CIRA, New Haven-based Unidad Latina en Acción, and many others.
Initial efforts were focused on connecting immigrants with U.S. citizen volunteers who could accompany them to court dates and ICE check-ins. But Fleck says it was clear more drastic efforts would be necessary in the future.
“We knew that there would be a need for sanctuary at some point,” he says. “It was a little bit like Field of Dreams initially: if you build it, they will come.”
On Oct. 9, 2017, as Bhatt drove Sajuti toward the Unitarian Universalist Church in Meriden, volunteers at the church were frantically getting ready for his arrival. They had only recently decided to become a sanctuary congregation and only heard that afternoon he may need to take sanctuary. Because their church had been a former farmhouse, it had a full bathroom and kitchen, but that was about all that was ready.
“I always say we jumped into the water and we looked for the life preservers later,” says Nancy Burton, one of the church members who spearheaded efforts for the church to become a sanctuary.
A native of Indonesia, Sajuti, now 69, first came to the U.S. in 1981 on a Fulbright fellowship as a graduate student at Columbia, where he received a master’s degree in public health. He returned to Indonesia for a few years in the mid-’80s before coming back to the U.S. in 1989. He began studying medical anthropology at the University of Connecticut and moved to Storrs and later Hartford and West Hartford, where he and Dahlia have lived since. He ultimately obtained a master’s at UConn, but in the early 1990s, his immigration status in the U.S. went into limbo. Even still, Sajuti and his wife built a life for themselves. They were active at their mosque, the Muhammad Islamic Center of Greater Hartford, and worked as private teachers. Sajuti taught mathematics, the Quran, Indonesian language and helped students prepare for standardized tests. He was also active in interfaith groups and political activism, particularly activism related to public health and immigration.
But there were many moments when his illegal immigration status reared its ugly head.
On Oct. 9, 2017, as Bhatt drove Sajuti to the Meriden church, ICE had the capability of tracking Sajuti on the highways between West Hartford and Meriden. They could pinpoint his location as Bhatt pulled into the parking lot of the Unitarian Universalist Church. Once he went inside, they would know that, too, and more importantly, they could learn the instant he left.
As Sajuti stepped out of his car, whatever other options he once had converged into one path. Around 11:30 p.m., he walked into the church.
Sajuti lives with his wife, Dahlia, in Meriden, but unlike him she can return to their apartment in West Hartford, which they maintain. She can go out and shop and see people. Sajuti puts a brave face on the situation. He smiles and laughs frequently. “Sometimes you feel lonely, sometimes you feel OK. So far I can manage,” he says. Sajuti says he doesn’t blame Trump for his situation but rather the bureaucracy that predates the president.
“There was no difference with Obama; there was no difference with Bush,” he says. “I got arrested during the Obama administration.”
Those who have observed him and Dahlia have been inspired by the couple’s positivity. Bhatt, who drove them to the church more than a year ago, is Sajuti’s primary advocate, coordinating press requests and acting as a liaison between him and church volunteers and other activists in the state. As part of that work, Bhatt, 32, has became close with the Sajutis. “They call me their son, they’ve kind of been like adopted parent figures,” he says. “They’re both super, super jovial and peaceful and both very sincere about educating themselves and also educating the community and youth in particular.”
At the church, both have held classes, and Sajuti has lectured on Indonesian culture. Even so, the process has been hard on the couple and on Sajuti in particular. “In many ways, it’s a form of incarceration for him; he has not stepped one toe outside of this meeting house for over a year,” the Rev. Jan Carlsson-Bull says. “Hopefully the surroundings would be more pleasant than a prison, but nonetheless it’s still really restraining on his life.”
His imam, Kashif Abdul-Karim from the Muhammad Islamic Center of Greater Hartford, says that, at first, Sajuti seemed to have trouble adjusting to the confinement of sanctuary. He grew irritable and argued with Dahlia. Abdul-Karim helped work with the church members to accommodate Sajuti’s religious practices. He spends two days each week fasting, and focuses on prayer and reflection. Abdul-Karim says Sajuti began taking his religion even more seriously.
“He began reading more and studying more Quran and getting himself more in tune with his religion, and in doing so he was able to overcome a lot of his personal problems and not focus so much on getting out but focus on the internal things about himself,” Abdul-Karim says.
This sob story about those who aid and abet lawbreakers goes on and on…it’s all Trumps fault and it’s like confinement…and every who opposes the millions of legals who enter and stay in the U.S. and abuse our system are the problem.
These institutions should be charged with conspiracy to aid and harbor illegal aliens. Why is that not a crime?
Here is Sajuti with Democrat Dick Blumenthal: