Sujitno Sajuti, a longtime resident of West Hartford, has been taking sanctuary at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Meriden for eight months in fear of deportation.
By Ryley McGinnis. Photos by Ronni Newton
Sujitno Sajuti still hopes for the American dream, but he understands it is unlikely.
On Tuesday, sitting in the dining area of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Meriden, where he has been in sanctuary for eight months, Sajuti told We-Ha.com about his past, his sanctuary, and his positivity.
Sajuti, 69, a medical anthropologist with several master’s degrees, sought sanctuary back in October when he was about to be forced out of the United States and back to his home country of Indonesia, which he hasn’t been back to since 1989 when he came back to the United States to further his education. In 1981 he came to the United States for the first time to study public health and get his master’s at Columbia University.
On Wednesday, the Connecticut Immigrant Rights Alliance is hosting a potluck event of “dinner and dialogue” about immigration issues in Connecticut and as a fundraiser for the Sajutis. The potluck is from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Flagg Road United Church of Christ, 134 Flagg Rd. in West Hartford. More information is available on the Facebook event page.
When Sajuti moved to West Hartford, he and his wife got very involved in the community, especially with Hello! West Hartford. Bepsie Perry, the founder and president of Hello! West Hartford, told We-Ha.com how dedicated the two have been. “They have done numerous things, but have mainly taught people about Indonesian culture and the importance of language,” said Perry. “They teach classes for continuing education, help adults get their GED, and more. They are just extremely kind, loving and have tremendous patience and sensitivity towards everyone,” she said.
“They have not missed a single event for Hello! West Hartford and they really focus on building bridges,” said Perry.
In sanctuary, Sajuti has spent most of his time exercising, focusing on religion – and most importantly – staying positive. “I don’t want to hear negative,” said Sajuti. “In times like these you have to be creative, productive, and use your imagination.”
He exercises by moving throughout the small church building, and said it is important to maintain his health.
Sajuti prays multiple times a day as part of his Muslim faith, and he fasts on Mondays and Thursdays. The Unitarian church is very accommodating and even puts up signs that let visitors know that the couple is fasting so that they can respect their traditions.
Sajuti’s wife of 37 years, Dahlia, is not confined to the church like her husband but she spends much of her time there. Sajuti said that her immigration case is different, and she may come and go as she pleases. They both share a positive outlook, even in their confined living quarters where a prayer rug occupies the corner that faces to the east.
In the church’s kitchen, Dahlia, an accomplished cook, prepares healthy, vegetarian dishes for the couple.
Sajuti still has faith in the government and said that you can’t blame the whole government for the works of one person or organization. “Not all people in government are bad, you cannot blame the whole for one person or part,” said Sajuti. Now, however, he’s not sure who he can and can’t trust.
Sajuti allowed the legal system to advocate on his behalf, employing multiple lawyers over the years, and said he can’t understand how more difficult and complicated immigration cases are resolved. “Me, it’s a very easy case,” he said, adding that he believes that being a Muslim has not helped him.
In 2017, when he reported for his annual check-in at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office, Sajuti’s request to remain in the United States was rejected. “It’s beyond my prediction,” Sajuti said. “My case is so much better. We pay tax, social security. I only focus on school and work.”
He has not gone outside since he came to live at the Unitarian Universalist Church on Oct. 10.
Sajuti hopes to be able to give back to those who have supported him. “I feel bad if I cannot do something because a lot of people are helping me,” he said.
He also believes in being kind no matter what adversities you face. “It’s tough, when you get hurt, to forgive someone. You still have to be positive and be nice,” said Sajuti.
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