Longtime West Hartford Man Jailed Over Immigration Status
Hartford Courant — No one denies that long-time Connecticut resident Sujitno Sajuti should have filed the proper immigration forms, that deadlines were missed, and that rules are rules.
And no one argues that in the current heated campaign season, breaking the rules places an immigrant at risk. But the reality is this: On Dec. 10, Sajuti, who came to the U.S. on a student visa in 1981, was picked up outside his West Hartford home by immigration agents, and he was imprisoned in North Dartmouth, Mass., where he remains.
Sujitno Sajuti and his wife, Dahlia, are long-time West Hartford residents who’ve been active in the immigrant community, as well as in various mosques around the area. They tutor youths, and Dahlia is an accomplished cook. Both have multiple post-graduate degrees.
Sajuti should have applied to stay once his student visa expired. According to his attorney, Irwin Berowitz, of New York, Sajuti had a deportation hearing eight years ago, and he was told he needed to leave — though Berowitz said Sajuti may not have understood the hearings’ goings-on. A statement from Immigration and Customs Enforcement said that “in order to ensure the integrity of the removal and immigration adjudication processes, the removal of aliens who are subject to a final order of removal and abscond, fail to depart, or intentionally obstruct immigration controls, are a priority for ICE.”
In other words, Sajuti is deep into the deportation process, and his supporters have their work cut out for them.
After 9/11, the couple said their visa application process was sidelined. Both were teaching and anxious to pursue their education, but they feared deportation. A special application introduced required of non-native Muslims also complicated matters, their supporters say. Backlogs and lost records didn’t help, either, and Sajuti — like many immigrants who’ve been in this country for decades — opted to stay in the U.S. illegally, effectively rolling the dice on the chance that he would not attract attention of officials.
“We are, in effect, begging for immigration to allow him to stay,” said Berowitz. “He would be under supervision, and the best thing about that is the person will get a work card right away, which is very important to my client and his wife.”
Dahlia Sajuti has yet to be approached by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, supporters say. The vice chair of the state chapter of American Immigration Lawyers Association, Jennifer Strait Rodriguez, of Madison, said it’s difficult to know how many people in detention claim Connecticut as their residence. Organizations such as the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund say the government unfairly targets Muslims in their enforcement.
Sajuti’s growing cadre of supporters — including a group called Let Sujitno Stay — want to bring him home.
Jay Klemundt, of Middlebury, who has spearheaded efforts, met the Sajutis through their mutual interest in social justice issues, particularly immigration concerns.
“In that work, I came across this pretty lively and well-read and very committed Muslim couple from Indonesia who seemed to make a lot of time for these kinds of things,” Klemundt said. “They have a lot of heart and they show up.”
This is not the first case in which Klemundt has been involved, he said, “where ordinary good people are going about thir business, trying to lead normal lives, making positive contributions to their neighborhoods who suddenly get scooped up in a dragnet…in the name of keeping America safe.”
In December, the Pew Research Center said deportations are at record levels under President Barack Obama, to an annual average of nearly 400,000 since 2009, which is 30 percent more than the annual average during the second term of the Bush.
At a recent meeting, Dahlia Sajuti had letters of support and copies of various college degrees and citations spread on a table at Southern Connecticut State University’s library. She only recently told her husband’s family that he was incarcerated, she said.
“I didn’t want them to worry,” she said, “and I didn’t want them to think badly about America. They couldn’t believe it. We are human beings. We have to help each other.
“People ask me, ‘Dahlia, are you OK?’ I am OK. I keep busy.”
Marion Kingsbury, of Manchester, describes the Sajutnis as “a nice couple who live peacefully, contribute to the community by their faithful lives and work.” The Sajutis attend Muhammad Islamic Center of Greater Hartford, and Kashif Abdul-Karim is their imam.
“He was supposed to follow up, and he never did,” said Imam Abdul-Karim. “He was told he had to leave the country and he said, ‘But this is pretty much where I’ve been for the last 30 years.‘”
“Sajuti didn’t file the paperwork; Sajuti is our brother, he’s part of the fabric of our community. He’s been a person who’s fought for people for immigration rights. We are asking for his mercy, to give him the opportunity to be heard.”
When immigration issues face other non-native members of his mosque, the imam says it’s usually more effective to petition authorities before an incarceration, but Sajuti’s supporters — Muslims and non- alike — are doing what they can. On Sunday, the Rev. Mark Diters, of Flagg Road United Church of Christ in West Harford, talked about Sajuti in his sermon.
“I asked what our responsiblities are,” said Diters. “I spoke about his situation, and said that the laws are being followed, but sometimes the laws don’t really fit the reality.”
He said he intends to attend a West Hartford rally — with some church members — on Feb. 25 in support of Sajuti.
Meanwhile, Dahlia Sajuti, an energetic 63-year-old, prays for his safe return. She has decided her husband’s incarceration is Allah’s will, and that perhaps the couple is meant to work in prisons when her husband is released.
Klemundt, who has visited, Sajuti, says the older man is in good spirits. He told Klemundt that the prison is “full of people from Connecticut.”
By Susan Campbell
Image: Fibonacci Blu