This has the makings of a feel-good story with a big "but" at the end.
A 63-year-old Indonesian immigrant who'd lived in the U.S. for decades is picked up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents as he's out walking with his wife, also 63, in their West Hartford neighborhood. As agents stand by a horrified Dahlia Sajuti, her husband, Sujitno, is placed in a car and whisked away.
He had been hiding in plain sight for years —- teaching classes, attending rallies and trying to figure out how to navigate his adopted country's broken immigration system. He ached to stay. And now? It looked like he would be sent back to Indonesia, a place he stopped calling home long ago.
Sajuti let his wife know through go-betweens that he wanted her to remain positive and focused, and that he would do the same. In his Massachusetts prison, if a fellow detainee from Haiti, from Pakistan, from Guatemala started talking negatively, Sajuti moved away. He prayed constantly. He told officers who served him halal meals and made arrangements for his prayer times that he appreciated their professionalism. He told his friend and supporter Jay Klemundt, who spearheaded the group, "Let Sujitno Stay," that he used his training as a policy analyst to step back and see himself in the big picture.
His arrest left a gaping hole in the fabric of his community. Word spread quickly. Multi-faith activists — and activists with no faith at all — began organizing. Meetings were held. Letters were written. Sajuti's lawyer in New York, Irwin Berowitz, began applying pressure.
But it felt like the wheels were inevitably turning toward deportation. As recently as a week and a half ago, Sajuti's supporters were told he was one document away from being placed on a flight to Indonesia. Meanwhile, Dahlia Sajuti was living with a friend because she couldn't stand the quiet apartment.
A Hartford attorney filed one more form. Sen. Richard Blumenthal's office got involved. Concerns registered by Berowitz got his client a new immigration officer. And, just like that, the dam broke. Sajuti called a friend to say he needed a ride the following day — a Friday —- because he was coming home to West Hartford. He was granted a stay of removal, and given a year to sort out his business. It's not the best solution, but it's a pretty good one.
Berowitz said his client is "a good human being. His wife and he have a strong relationship. Each one enjoys giving to other human beings. At the same time, it is obvious that they take great pleasure in the company of others, and believe that by joining forces with others, they can improve the lot of many people in the Hartford area."
In prison, Sajuti said he prayed alongside Christian detainees because, he said, "Who knows whose prayers get through? Maybe theirs. Maybe mine."
So this is a happy ending — or, rather, it's the happy ending of one chapter. A rally was scheduled for Saturday in Hartford, to celebrate his release, raise money for his defense and draw attention to detainees who still await resolution of their cases. Last Wednesday, Klemundt and a host of others delivered a letter to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's office requesting he carefully consider before he implements ICE's Secure Communities program, which requires local law enforcement officials to share fingerprints with the FBI, which then checks in with ICE.
The letter delivered to Malloy said the program "incentivizes racial profiling, undermines community policing, and burdens Connecticut taxpayers." Officials in some states — including New York and Massachusetts — say the program is impossible to police, and the potential for abuses against immigrants and citizens alike is rife.
(If you doubt that power can be abused among the immigrant population, look at East Haven, where four police officers await trial for racial profiling and worse. We need to fix our immigration system, but this is not a fix.)
His friends and supporters can feel good that Sajuti came home, but the story isn't over, not by a long shot.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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