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

MERIDEN -- West Hartford resident Sujitno Sajuti has been ordered by ICE to leave the country on October 10, but he instead took sanctuary in a Meriden church.

Nury Chavarria, of Norwalk, stayed in a New Haven church in July until she received a stay of deportation. Marco Antonio Reyes Alvarez, of Meriden, has remained in another New Haven church for nine weeks, while his lawyers battle immigration officials.

And now, 68-year-old Sajuti, has taken up residence in the Unitarian Universalist Church in Meriden.

"And that's where he's going to stay," said Alok Bhatt of the CT Immigration Rights Alliance.

“A humble, peaceful gentleman who's been here for over 30 years, an active community member, is being told to leave the country for no reason,” Alok Bhatt with the Connecticut Immigrant Rights Alliance said. “He just wants to be here, live peacefully, continue his education, continue to teach his students, he means so much to them.”

"His legal team is looking into some forms of relief for Sujitno, to gain some sort of permanent residency," said Bhatt.

The 68-year-old West Hartford resident came to the United States in the 1980s as a Fulbright scholar, but after his student visa expired and without options to gain status in the United States, continued to live here in Connecticut.

ICE released the following statement:

“Sujitno Sajuti is a citizen of Indonesia who entered the U.S. legally in 1989, but overstayed his lawful visit by several years. A federal immigration judge issued him a final order of removal in October 2003.

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."

What is a sanctuary church?

Sajuti tells FOX61 the process to get a visa is, “a very confusing process.”

Around 2002-2003, after submitting to a special registration program profiling men from Muslim-majority nations, ICE targeted him for removal and then arrested him at his home in 2011.

Sajuti spent over two months incarcerated before the community rallied for his freedom.

He has since been allowed to live with his wife Dahlia and work in the United States, but in August of this year ICE denied his stay of removal and he was ordered to leave the country.

“For all that the government says about we only want people who are assets to our community, that contribute to our society, well, that’s exactly what he does and it hasn’t made any difference to them,” Bhatt said. “We really need to understand that this is part of a much broader systematic attack on all of our communities and we’re all ultimately going to be impacted in some form in some degree.”

Sajuti is choosing to remain hopeful, saying he’s looking for the good and puts his trust in God.

“As much strength as he shows and at peace as he is with this I can’t imagine what other conflicting thoughts and emotions are going through his head or his wife,” Bhatt said.