West Hartford man set to be deported takes sanctuary in Meriden - WFSB 3 Connecticut

West Hartford man set to be deported takes sanctuary in Meriden church

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Sujitno Sajuti attended a rally in his defense on Oct. 5. (WFSB file) Sujitno Sajuti attended a rally in his defense on Oct. 5. (WFSB file)
MERIDEN, CT (WFSB) -

An undocumented immigrant from West Hartford, who was supposed to be deported on Tuesday, has taken up refuge in a Meriden church.

Sujitno Sajuti's sanctuary is defying orders from Immigration and Customs Enforcement and took sanctuary inside the Unitarian Universalist Church on Monday evening. 

Sajuti, 68, was scheduled to board a plane on Tuesday morning, however, he has chosen to stay in Connecticut, a place he's called home for more than 30 years.

"Its a gift to us and I'm so proud of this congregation for their willingness to do this," said Rev. Dr. Jane Carlsson-Bull, of the Unitarian Universalist Church.

ICE officials said Sajuti, who is originally from Indonesia, entered the United States legally in 1989 and spent much of that time living in West Hartford where he has lived with his wife. However, ICE officials said Sajuti "overstayed his lawful visit by several years."

In August, ICE officials denied his latest stay. Sajuti was ordered by a federal immigration judge issued to leave by Oct. 10.

"In an exercise of discretion at the time, ICE chose not to place Mr. Sajuti into custody and allowed him ample time, and numerous stays of removal, to pursue legal options to resolve his case. He has since exhausted these options and in August he was given instructions to provide evidence he intends to depart the United States in compliance with the judge's removal (deportation) order. Mr. Sajuti did not leave the United States per the court's instructions and is now considered an ICE fugitive," ICE said in a statement on Tuesday.  

His supporters said he came from to the U.S. in the 1980s to complete advanced degrees from both the University of Connecticut and Columbia University. From there, they said he lacked options to gain legal status after his student visa expired. Still, he chose to stay in Connecticut.

Supporters said Sajuti is well known across Connecticut as a cultural ambassador and activist who regularly participates in multi-cultural and interfaith services, educating people about the Qu'ran and Indonesian culture. He also helps with mentoring students and preparing them for their GED exams.

"He was supposed to leave on a flight from JFK to Indonesia this morning and that's not going to happen this is home and this is where he's going to stay," Alok Bhatt with Connecticut Immigrants Rights Alliance said. "His legal team is looking into some forms of relief for Sijinto to gain some forms of permanent residency."

Before he seeking sanctuary, rallies have taken place to save a man his neighbors have called a staple in the community.

"Its something that breaks my heart because this is something I have become too familiar with, too familiar with and I don't see it ending anytime soon," said Jason Ramos.

Ramos, who lives in Meriden, would understand what Sajuti is going through because his parents, who were originally slated to be deported back to Ecuador, are currently free while waiting to see if a judge will reopen their case.

Sajuti isn't the first undocumented immigrant in Connecticut to go this route and seeking sanctuary.

Norwalk mother Nury Chavarria was the first, staying in a New Haven church, before immigration agreed to take another look at her case.

Also right now, Meriden father Marco Reyes has been living in another New Haven church since August, as he tries to avoid deportation back to Ecuador.

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