At 9am today, 68 year-old West Hartford resident Sujitno Sajuti must check in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at JFK Airport in New York City to be deported back to his home country of Indonesia—a land he hasn't seen in nearly 40 years. A practicing Muslim, Sajuti has no ties to any family there, no assets, no anything.
I have been living here for almost four decades—nearly forty years, more than half my life. If I am sent back to my native country, I wouldn't even recognize it. I have nothing there, I know no one. All my assets are here, in this country. I would have no money, no house, no retirement, no income, no jobs, no pension, no family, no friends, no medical, nothing. I would be an outcast, due to my failure [in completing my PhD program]...
I would not be able to help anyone, as I do here. My wife and I enjoy, so much, helping people in our community. I could not work, due to forced retirement age. I would be useless, just sit in my house, do nothing. If even I could find a house to live in. What sort of life is that? That is not a life worth living...
I do not understand why your government hates me so much. Why they want to send me back after all these so many years? Why now when I have made such a life for myself here? Why send me back when I have been gone so long that I would be a stranger in a strange land? Why, why, why they want to do this to me?
Sajuti was invited to this country in 1981 to attend Columbia University as a Fulbright Scholar. He completed that program in 1984 and was awarded a Masters in Public Health, the second advanced degree of his educational career. Sajuti received his first masters in sociocultural anthropology from the University of Indonesia in 1979. After completing his studies at Columbia, he returned to Indonesia for a short while but soon found himself back in the USA in other educational endeavors.
Like many Indonesians, Sajuti views education as a life-long pursuit. So in 1989, he began studies at UCONN, Storrs under the US AID program, under which he entered into a joint MA/PhD program in applied medical anthropology. He completed and received his master's degree from the joint degree program. Indeed, the UCONN 1993 Commencement Program shows on page 44 that a Sujitno Sajuti was graduated from The Graduate School with a Master of Arts in Anthropology in December 1992.
However, Sajuti ran into a serious problem and nearly starved to death with the the doctoral side of his degree: UCONN rescinded their scholarship without giving him either a reason or an explanation for their actions. Sajuti couldn't work under his student visa and he had no money. It took more than six months to resolve the scholarship snafu, and he went days without eating. There were programs in his government that could have covered his expenses but UCONN was withholding paperwork required to apply to those programs, despite his government requesting copies of such papers, according to Sajuti.
What's worse is that during this same time period, Sajuti's doctoral program advisor took early retirement, unbeknownst to him. When he finally was able to return to his studies at UCONN and learned of this setback, Sajuti was unable to find a new advisor to complete his PhD program. While he successfully completed all of the coursework required for his doctoral degree, he has been unable to find an advisor to oversee his dissertation.
To this day, he still has been unable to find a new advisor, and he has never given up looking for one. At the age of 68, he says that he would return to school "in a heartbeat" if he could find an advisor so that he would be able to complete his doctoral program and receive his PhD.
What happened to Mr. Sajuti during his studies at UCONN in the 90s might be grounds to file a motion to reopen or a motion to reconsider, but we need additional details and more information, especially as this all took place so long ago," Yazmin Rodriguez, Esq., an attorney familiar with Sajuti's case explained. Ms. Rodriguez is the owner of Esperanza Center for Law & Advocacy, a boutique law firm specializing in immigration defense cases. She continued, "There might be something in the paper trail that could remove the case from ICE's jurisdiction and place it back with the court."
Sajuti's student visa was valid until 1996, so between 1993 and then he finished the coursework required for his doctorate, did some work tutoring other students to supplement his income to survive, and attempted to find a new advisor for his dissertation.
I never thought about [getting a green card] because only I wanted to finish my studies. I only thought about a green card in 1996 when I realized my visa was going to expire. I contacted my country to resolve the issues with my studies because I wanted to complete them, and it was then that Indonesia attempted to bring me home. Instead, I chose to remain here in USA, hoping to complete my studies in the future.
The reasoning behind this is more complicated than what lies on the surface and delves into a dark societal secret in many Asian cultures—issues that would pop and sizzle to an anthropological student like Sajuti. In many Asian cultures like in Indonesia, failure is perhaps one of the worst of the "sins" one can commit—far worse than rape or even murder.
A child's failure can have lasting repercussions on their family and society, who turn against and shun the one who failed, who often is seen as bringing dishonor and disgrace upon the entire family. In some cultures, the dishonor and disgrace can extend beyond the family to the entire village. Simply put, failure just isn't an option. The Harvard Business Review lists failure, and more specifically the fear and culture around failure, as the first thing that must be eliminated in order to improve innovation in Asian society. Even reaching out for help can be seen as an act of dishonor to one's family.
Rabbi Sacks explains,
The biggest difference is that in shame cultures, if we’re caught doing wrong, there’s a stain on our character that only time can erase... guilt cultures make a sharp distinction between the doer and the deed, the sinner and the sin. That’s why guilt cultures focus on atonement and repentance, apology and forgiveness. The act was wrong, but on our character there’s no indelible stain.
When Sajuti decided to risk being captured and remain in the USA after his student visa expired in 1996, the stain of his failure was what was on his mind. He literally was scared to death to return home to Indonesia, where he would have been ostracized and shunned by his family. The closest analogy to how he would have been treated is how unwed, teenaged mothers were treated a century ago—only Sajuti's fate, as a man, would have been far, far worse.
In Asian cultures such as Indonesia, shame and the fear of shame have been traced as the cause for the lack of innovation in technology, absence of the startup business sector in Asia, and the inability of many Asians to ask for help—especially in seeking help for mental health issues. Fear of failure has exerted unnecessary and undue stress on countless Asian students. This is because, "Failure is hard to accept in Asian cultures. Failure makes individuals feel guilty and shameful," remarks Assunta Ng.
Furthermore, the penalty for failure in many Asian societies, ostracization, has recently been found to have long-lasting consequences:
Some call it the “social death penalty.” It’s the feeling of being a pariah, of being shunned, ignored by the group, or given the silent treatment. It can mean anything from physical exile to subtle forms of psychological isolation. Whatever you call it, ostracism is a ghastly form of hurt.
You might think bullying is worse than ostracism, but recent research suggests that being frozen out is actually more painful. From social exclusion on the playground to being ignored in the workplace, ostracism is among the most devastating experiences we can endure, deeply connected to our most fundamental human need to be recognized and accepted. Ostracism can reshape the human brain, and in extreme cases, even make a person want to go on a killing spree.
In 1996, with the decision made to remain in the USA rather than face the societal punishment of ostracization from his failed educational studies (which most likely would have started first from his own family before spreading outward into society), he and his wife began to build a life together here. He applied for lawful permanent resident (LPR) status (a green card) but his application was turned down. He did, however, receive a work permit.
Over the next several years, Sajuti worked at various jobs, mostly teaching in his community and working in various community stores and markets, where he was the victim of armed robberies. When he wasn't working he volunteered his time to teach all members in the community, from youths to adults.
I realized the difficulty of people to get citizenship, to get GED, so whatever I can do to help people is what I did. I was surprised when somebody can talk back to you in the street but doesn't know how to spell in English. They didn't know mathematics and science. I have home-school a number of students. Within three months I have been able to get children to move up an entire grade.
I've seen that there is a need for me to be here. And I receive help from my students as well. It's a symbiotic relationship, even though I feel that I give more than I receive. But I'm more than ok with that. I teach at home school, substitute teaching, tutoring, religious studies, interfaith religious studies, mathematics, science, social sciences, English, GED, citizenship. Anything to help people who need the help.
Sajuti's contributions to the community haven't gone unnoticed. David McGuire, the executive director of the ACLU of Connecticut, praised Sajuti, "Mr. Sajuti has been an activist with the ACLU of Connecticut and other organizations in the state. We know him as a thoughtful voice for liberty, justice, and equality and a dedicated member of the Connecticut community."
United States Senator Richard Blumenthal echoed similar sentiments:
I personally met Mr. Sajuti, who has been a positive asset to the Hartford community for decades—earning friends and respect through his dedicated community service. He was rightfully granted a stay of deportation in 2012 and has dutifully remained in contact with immigration officials since then.
Imam Kashif Abdul Karim of the Muhammad Islamic Center of Greater Hartford met Sajuti 15 years ago when he became imam of the Greater Hartford region. Imam Kashif vouched for Sajuti's status as a pillar of the community, describing him as "a hands-on person, someone who likes to go in there and get things done. He's an organizer, a problem-solver, and he's extremely intelligent."
Despite Sajuti's good standing within the community, It should come as no surprise to anyone who has been following the plight of immigrants in our great nation that this is not the first—or even the second—time that the US Government has tried to deport Sajuti, on more than one occasion:
All Americans, not only in the States most heavily affected but in every place in this country, are rightly disturbed by the large numbers of illegal aliens entering our country. The jobs they hold might otherwise be held by citizens or legal immigrants. The public service [sic] they use impose burdens on our taxpayers. That's why our administration has moved aggressively to secure our borders more by hiring a record number of new border guards, by deporting twice as many criminal aliens as ever before, by cracking down on illegal hiring, by barring welfare benefits to illegal aliens. In the budget I will present to you, we will try to do more to speed the deportation of illegal aliens who are arrested for crimes, to better identify illegal aliens in the workplace as recommended by the commission headed by former Congresswoman Barbara Jordan. We are a nation of immigrants. But we are also a nation of laws. It is wrong and ultimately self-defeating for a nation of immigrants to permit the kind of abuse of our immigration laws we have seen in recent years, and we must do more to stop it.
The above statement was issued by a President during his State of the Union (SOTU) address to Congress. You more astute readers will know that these remarks couldn't possibly belong to our current President Donald J. Trump because he has yet to deliver his first SOTU. So then, you say to yourself, it must be President Bush, right? If you were on a trivia game show then you would hear the sound of a buzzer and be declared absolutely 100% wrong!
Watch below to find out which President delivered these remarks. And pay particularly close attention to the end of the video. Notice what happens. I've already told you that this is a US President delivering a SOTU address, so watch who delivers the most support and applause to this President's remarks.
As can be seen from the above video, it was President William Jefferson Clinton who uttered those words. President Clinton was acting on the recommendations of the immigration commission chaired by Congresswoman Jordan, whom he appointed, and that is precisely the moment in time when there was a seismic shift in American immigration policy. We went from being a nation welcoming of immigrants to one where we hunt them down and deport them.
Fellow progressives, take note: Republican President Ronald Reagan gave amnesty to more than 3 million immigrants in 1986, allowing them to become citizens. And Republican President George H.W. Bush vastly expanded the immigration program, increasing quotas, allowing for family members to be granted visas, created the work visa, and also allowed for the issuance of work permits for those immigrants who were unable to gain legal status.
And then we have neoliberal Democratic President Bill Clinton, who "moved aggressively to secure our borders" and began deporting "illegals." Even the name of the law changed, from an "Immigration Reform and Control Act" to an "Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act" The new immigration laws actually reduced the number of immigrants allowed into the country, significantly cutting the numbers down from those enacted under President George H.W. Bush. And it prioritized deportation, significantly ramping up the country's deportation efforts, and adding the funding to back those efforts up.
So in 1996 when Sajuti's student visa expired and he applied for LPR status, he was instead given a deportation notice, in line with the Jordan Commission's recommendations. One of the most significant changes of the 1996 immigration legislation is that it retroactively expands the list of crimes qualifying an immigrant to be deported as an "aggravated felon," among them, failure to appear in court. Thankfully, Sajuti was able to obtain a stay of deportation, as well as a work permit.
Because Sajuti is a peaceful, law-abiding person and not a criminal, his deportation wasn't a high priority for ICE. At least for a few years...
When President Trump spoke about requiring Muslims living in our country to register with the government (as then-candidate Trump), what he may not have known is that had actually already taken place, and Sajuti complied with that directive. In 2002-2003 during the Bush (43) administration, our government required special registration of "all male foreign visitors, already in the U.S., aged 16 and older[,] from specified countries to register at designated immigration offices within a given time period." The program was discontinued at the end of 2003.
As a result of that process, an immigration judge issued an order of removal, which was stayed. Sajuti was allowed to remain in the country, under the same conditions as before. He was to check in with ICE annually, and have his work permit renewed annually. And he did that faithfully, each and every year. ICE left him alone, either ignoring him or losing track of his paperwork.
That is until 2012 when the Obama administration released new guidelines for ICE to focus on deportations targeting terrorists and criminals. Somehow, ICE officials removed Sajuti from his home and took him to a detention center in Massachusetts where he remained for 63 days, despite Sajuti being neither a terrorist nor a criminal.
After a strong outcry from his local community, he eventually was released, with a stay of deportation, and allowed to return to his life once again, where he continued to teach, volunteer for his community, and improve and enrich the lives of those whose paths he crossed.
Such as the work he does as a board member on the non-profit organization Hello! West Hartford, dedicated to connecting its community through culture and language. Or the interfaith outreach efforts he engages in, which lead other religious organizations to advocate for his release when he was detained by ICE. Or his advocacy for educational funding, health care access, immigration reform, and other justice issues, as well as championing of interfaith dialogue, cultural understanding, and mutual respect.
Sujitno is such a part of our community, it would be a tremendous loss to us if he were deported. He is irreplaceable. Who could we find to do all that he does? Any time someone has been that involved with the community for that long, he would be irreplaceable. He's been around since the 80s. He's been around since before I was. And I am not speaking just about our Mosque, but all of his students, the immigration community, the people he helps get GEDs, the people he helps with citizenships, the children and adults he tutors and teachers. So many people he helps, he would no longer be there for them, for us. It is unthinkable, Imam Kashif tearfully pondered.
"It's our job to do a full screening of our clients to ensure that there's nothing that we haven't overlooked, especially with clients who have been here for decades," Rodriguez offered as she described the immigration attorney's role. In cases such as Sajuti's, they attorney acts as a mixture of chronologer, historian, and private investigator, all in order to must come up with intelligent, reasonable legal strategies on behalf of their client. As such, they must examine every aspect of their client's lives, leaving no stone unturned. She cautions how difficult this can be, especially with clients who have been here for multiple decades, as memories get clouded and documents are misplaced, lost, or destroyed.
Indeed, the immigration lawyer's task is quite difficult, and has become increasingly so with each administration. Ever since President Clinton took our nation in a new direction with regard to immigration policy, each successive administration has augmented these draconian policies. It is merely Sajuti's bad luck to have lived in this country through all four administrations that are determined to transform our great nation, which once welcomed immigrants with open arms, into one that makes a profit by throwing them out.
If only Presidents Reagan and Bush (41) were here. Well, President Bush is still with us, and he has criticized some of the new GOP in a book that was published a few years ago, Destiny and Power. I can only imagine the tongue-lashing those two Republican Presidents would have, if healthy and able-minded, given to their successors. But I digress.
We cannot allow this to happen, in a country of welcoming Americans. We are the best country in the world. We were brought up that not one person, not one religion, not one color … we made this country great because it’s all of us! For centuries, immigrants have made this country stronger, lending their labor, service, and love to an ideal – and all the people who share this ideal. It’s our turn now to protect that path for those who want to contribute to our nation, those who already consider themselves Americans, but for where they were born.
Alok Bhatt is a member of the Connecticut Immigrant Rights Alliance (CIRA), a statewide alliance of immigrant, faith, labor, youth, community, business, and ally organizations founded to improve the lives of Connecticut’s diverse immigrant community. CIRA has been working non-stop to prevent Sajuti's deportation. He agreed with Lt. Gov. Wyman's position:
Whether or not someone has a criminal record should not be a determining factor on deportation status. Granting a stay is up to the individual ICE officer. There's no logic as to why this is happening to Sujitno. It's completely discretionary. This is another form of state violence against people of color and an example of how our government exhibits Islamaphobia, racism, xenophobia, it's a consequence of violent prejudices our nation was founded on and continues to develop, unfortunately.
The ACLU-CT's McGuire concurred with similar sentiments, "A federal immigration policy that prioritizes deporting Sujitno Sajuti is not a policy that reflects American values. Tearing him away from his home, family, and friends is cruel. We call on those with the power to stop his removal to do so immediately, and we stand with him in solidarity."
Senator Blumenthal lashed out at President Trump, blaming him for Sajuti's predicament. But as we discovered above, this situation can be traced back to President Clinton:
Mr. Sajuti is yet another example of a Trump deportation machine that has lost all sense of reason and rationality. There is absolutely no reason why we should expend taxpayer dollars deporting Mr. Sajuti. I am working closely with Mr. Sajuti and advocates to do all I can to keep him home in Hartford where he belongs.
Alex Meyerovich is an immigration attorney who stepped forward a few weeks ago and agreed to represent Sajuti pro bono. He believes very strongly that a grave injustice is being carried out, and he couldn't agree more with the sentiments expressed by CIRA, Lt. Gov. Wyman, the ACLU-CT, and others. But he takes umbrage with Senator Blumenthal's statement, at least the end of it:
I reached out to both of our Senators from Connecticut to seek their help for Mr. Sajuti. [Senator Chris] Murphy's office didn't seem the slightest bit interested in the case. [Senator Richard] Blumenthal's office was much more receptive, as he had helped him in the past. However, it didn't appear to be a priority for the Senator, as the office was focused on the disaster in Puerto Rico. I can understand that we have many residents here from Puerto Rico who have relatives there, but we also have residents here in Connecticut who are in dire straits and need help from him, now.
At this point, I doubt the Senator will be able to do anything. What can he do, have a talk with the head of ICE? He'll just say hey, I have a new boss now, sorry. And because he basically ignored us when he could have made a difference, we're out of luck now. I filed a motion for a stay of deportation last Wednesday, and on Friday I received a call from an ICE officer, the stay was denied. So, there are no more legal options for Mr. Sajuti. I know some of those officers at ICE don't like doing their job. I swear, the officer who called to let me know the motion was denied, he sounded like he was going to tell me a relative had died. But they do what they have to do, I understand that, it's their job.
Shawn Neudauer, the Public Affairs Officer for the local ICE Area of Responsibility office covering Connecticut, would agree with that assessment. He issued the following statement after inquiries were made into Sajuti's case:
Sujitno Sajuti is an illegally present 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 ICE chose not to place Mr. Sajuti into custody and has 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 instruction to provide evidence he intends to depart the United States in compliance with the judge’s removal (deportation) order. He has done this and rather than place him in custody, ICE placed him on a GPS monitoring program pending his departure from the country.
Renata Castro, Esq., an immigration attorney originally from Brazil who, like Sajuti, dedicates much of her life to the Floridian community in which she lives, disagrees with ICE's assessment of Sajuti's legal position. According to Castro, the difficulty Sajuti had with his studies at UCONN could be cause to reopen the case and seek a review, as he would have been able to maintain lawful nonimmigration status for the duration of his stay. Ineffective assistance of counsel (Sajuti has had 23 lawyers in the three plus decades he has been living here) is another legal strategy that could be pursued;
If some kind of asylum claim has been made, it is likely that the immigration attorney would have petitioned for CAT protection. CAT, short for Convention Against Torture, allows an individual to stay in the USA with the ability to work lawfully; however, the protection not is designed to merely keep him here but to grant any kind of protection or to allow his free entry into the USA should he choose/have to depart. Mr. Sujitno does not have family members in the USA who could be used as qualifying relatives (such as a mother, father, wife, husband, or children), who would be anchors in a request for cancellation of removal [Ed: while Sajuti has a wife, she is also undocumented and therefore does not qualify to serve as an anchor for him]. Immigration has no heart, and in most part, USCIS only looks to challenges imposed to family members of the immigrant who are US Citizens or green card holders, not necessarily the hardships imposed on the immigrant himself.
Bhatt also questioned ICE's claims about Sajuti having exhausted all of his options, "Saying he's exhausted all of his options is bull. I don't think anyone ever filed a BIA [Board of Immigration Appeals] or 2nd Circuit Appeal for [Sajuti]. This is classic 'blame the victim' nonsense. They're just pushing back, they don't want to be seen as buckling under pressure."
If an asylum claim could be made for Sajuti, there could be numerous grounds. First, there is the ostracization he would face for his failure to complete his education. Next, there is the hardening of Indonesia's Islamic culture toward a much more conservative, patriarchal, less enlightened path, e.g., recent attempts to cleanse LGBT-related content from society. Next, there is his age to consider; at 68, he would be under forced retirement. Without being able to work, he would have no source of income. Indonesia affords no retirement benefits to its citizens. There is no care for its elders except what families provide. As he has no family to take care of him there, he would be at the mercy of the streets.
The special registration by which Sajuti was subjected in 2003, which ultimately resulted in the final order of deportation against him, could be another point of contention. Many civil libertarians and patriots alike balked at the mere thought of President Trump instituting such a list. The registration was not well-publicized when it was in effect in 2002-3, except perhaps in the Muslim community. But it may very well have been an unconstitutional exercise of the government's power. If that's the case, then everything Sajuti has been through could be rolled back. However, without knowing what his previous attorneys have done, it would not be possible to raise the issue now.
What many don't realize is the path to obtaining LPR status is nearly impossible, especially for those who overstay their visas. There quite literally is no option for them to secure a green card. The best they can do is what Sajuti did, receive a stay of deportation, report to ICE on an annual basis, and receive a work permit that entitles the immigrant to earn a living and file taxes.
However, as Castro points out, while immigrants pay all of the taxes that citizens do, they do not receive any of the benefits from paying those taxes, and that includes the forfeiture of social security retirement and Medicare benefits to which they otherwise would be entitled.
Sajuti's is a very complicated case. It spans many decades. The file is incomplete. There have been numerous attorneys who have worked on it over the years, as he wasn't always able to pay their fees and would have to find new attorneys. There were multiple attempts by him to gain LPR status, as well as multiple attempts by ICE to deport him. And nobody is giving up on Sajuti, least of all himself.
Prior to the 2003 special registration, Sajuti applied for an adjustment of his status, to LPR. However, he never heard from ICE until 2004. There was some sort of mix-up in the paperwork. Either ICE held onto the paperwork, or they had his wrong address, or his attorney didn't process a form, or something. But somewhere in there, there was a screwup. As a result, he was notified one year after the deadline of a form he had to submit. According to Sajuti, this was never investigated.
I still would like to become a citizen. I dream about this. I want also to continue my education and finish my PhD. Perhaps I will be able to do this now with an online University. But only if I am able to remain here in America, not if I am sent back to Indonesia. In Indonesia I will have nothing, I will be nothing. Here, I am teacher, part of a community. I can help people here, help to make the world more peaceful, more understanding.
Sajuti isn't the only one hoping. His attorney, Meyerovich, filed a FOIA request to obtain Sajuti's case file from ICE. After reviewing the entire file, he will be in a better position to determine the next best course of action.
Mr. Sajuti is out of legal options at this time. But that doesn't mean he's out of options. He is supposed to report to JFK at 9am this morning, with a ticket to Indonesia. But he could, as others have done, seek sanctuary in a mosque. If he does this, it buys us more time. I would be able to look at his file. And others would be able to exert pressure on ICE to allow grant him a stay of deportation, which puts us back into this same situation, which we can revisit next year. But that is better than where we are now. Putting pressure on ICE is, at this point, probably the most productive approach.
ICE is bent on sending this almost 70 year old man back to Indonesia, and for what? This case is the most extreme highlight I have seen of what's going on with the immigration system right now. The government is spending incredible effort on people who should be left alone, people who are living their lives peacefully, within the law, like when ICE was following parents to the hospital so they could grab the parents after their child got out of surgery and remove them from the country. Why, what is their reason for such heartless brutality?
Indeed, a quick trip around the web will find countless stories of such unfathomable actions by ICE, removing standup members of the community from their homes, their families, and their communities and sending them off to lands they haven't seen in decades in what seemingly are completely arbitrary decisions. After all, they've been in our country for decades, why deport them now?
There are many ways to exert pressure on ICE. One is to hold rallies, such as the one in the video above that was held on October 5th. I've set it to start halfway through Sajuti's speech; you can rewind it to watch the entire rally, which is only half an hour long, should you wish to do so.
You also can write letters to ICE officials and elected officials. Physical letters (you know, the kind you write with a pen and paper, although a letter printed from a computer and signed by pen is an acceptable substitute) are best, and should be sent to:
Thomas D. Homan, Acting Director
U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement
500 12th St., SW
Washington, D.C. 20536
Keep your elected officials engaged, as well. Remember, it was a Democratic president who turned us down this path (as well as down the path of welfare reform, and criminal justice reform, but let's save those topics for another time; I've found that there's only so much self-flagellation the corporatist Democrats can take). And there were nearly as many Democrats who voted for the bill in Congress as who voted against it, in both cases, only four more Democrats voted against the bill in the House of Representatives and four more Democrats voted against the bill in the Senate.
I feel a need to repeat this, because I apparently am not always clear in my writing and also have been told that I assume too much about my readers: Sajuti received a valid work permit, with a valid social security number, directly from the United States Government (ICE). The social security number is valid, as it was issued by the US government and was not stolen. Sajuti filed a tax return every year. He has paid taxes, just like any citizen.
Sajuti has had federal, state, and FICA (social security and Medicare) taxes withheld from each of his paychecks, using the social security number that the US government assigned to him. He applied multiple times for LPR and citizenship but there is no legal path to either of those for people in Sajuti's position. It is impossible to get LPR status or become a citizen without a sponsor already living in the country, and that sponsor must either be a first-degree relative or a suitable employer under one of the five categories of employment visas.
And that brings us back to the present moment. Right now, at this very minute, people are in a great deal of pain. The capricious manner by which ICE is choosing to deport immigrants is causing much despair within the immigrant community. In closing, Sujitno delivered these remarks in a conversation that was poignant and gut-wrenching, leaving a large hole in my stomach:
I am going to pray but praying doesn't mean anything if you don't take action. But you have to be careful with action because it can have repercussions, so you have to be careful.
This, here, is my home for a long time. I've known these people, I feel a deep connection. I have adopted children here, a community family. I don't know why the government doesn't like me. I haven't done anything. I don't have an aggressive behavior. I always have tried to work together with people, even if I don't like it.
My dream job would be something helping people, working in an office but still having freedom, maybe as a consultant in health, education, economy, government, doing policy analysis. Something like that. I do not think I would ever run for political office. That would be my wife, she would be more adept for that. [he laughs]
People at the top forget about doing good things for others. They forget that it's a combination between their duties and what's in your heart. Be a wise person. Be intelligent but also be wise, be kind but in real ways.
If I can stay here, I will not retire. I will continue doing the things I have been doing in the community and so forth until I can no longer do them. It is that simple.
It is my greatest hope, yes, I would like to become a citizen, very much. And most of all, my greatest dream, I wish to finish my PhD. And after that, then perhaps I will start a new studies, a second doctorate. It is never too late.
I am positive and hope for the best. We cannot be any other way. Never give up. You cannot give up, ever. Never give up. Never give up.
At 68 years old, on the verge of being deported to a country he hasn't seen in nearly 40 years, Sajuti isn't cursing out the government. Rather, he's thinking about becoming a citizen here, of completing his education, and spending his remaining time on earth here, in the community he calls home, with the people he considers to be his family.
If only American citizens themselves were half as much a citizen as Sujitno Sajuti is now, without the legal status of being one.
UPDATE @ 4:40 PM: Sajuti did not appear at JFK this morning to depart to Indonesia. Instead, he has decided to seek sanctuary in a church. According to Patch, a hyperlocal news website, Sajuti took refuge at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Meriden, CT early this morning. NBC Connecticut News reports that the church decided last month to become a sanctuary location for immigrants, and it has the “full support of their regional leadership” in granting Sajuti sanctuary.
(A very special thank you to my fellow Berner and fantabulous friend Julie Maahs, who provided some fantabulous last-minute proofreading and editing assistance for me!)