Former Fulbright scholar leaves sanctuary after 598 days

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HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A former Fulbright scholar who has been fighting deportation to his native Indonesia left the sanctuary of a Connecticut church Friday after 598 days.

Sujitno Sajuti had been living inside Meriden's Unitarian Universalist church with his wife, Dahlia, since being ordered by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in 2017 to board a plane.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who accompanied Sajuti as he walked out the front door of the church, said federal authorities have determined that Sajuti was once a victim of a violent crime and therefore qualified for a U visa that will allow him to stay in the United States.

"It is fitting that during this third and final stage of Ramadan, salvation from hell, I'm leaving from a long period of confinement and am finally free to join my community," Sajuti said.

Neither he nor Blumenthal elaborated on the crime, though Blumenthal said Hartford police provided federal officials with the evidence.

"The triumph today is really a lesson from Sujitno and his family," said Blumenthal, a Democrat. "Never give up. Never back down. Never give up, because the fight is worth it."

Sajuti came to the United States in 1981 on a Fulbright Scholarship, earning advanced degrees from Columbia University and the University of Connecticut. The West Hartford resident overstayed his student visa and remained in the United States.

He has said he has registered with immigration officials since 2001.

Sajuti filed an appeal of the deportation order and a motion to stay the deportation last July.

Blumenthal said immigration authorities have granted what is known as deferred action, a decision not to remove an individual from the United States. The decision lasts indefinitely but can be reversed at any time.

"Following a determination that Sajuti qualifies for a legal immigrant visa, ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations does not anticipate pursuing enforcement action in this case at this time," the agency said in a statement.

The agency has a policy to not arrest people at certain "sensitive" locations, including churches. Several other immigrants facing deportation have taken sanctuary in churches in Connecticut.

Church leaders planned to accompany Sajuti to Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices to have his ankle bracelet removed. He and his wife planned to then return to their apartment in West Hartford, they said.

"What an amazing victory!" said Rev. Jan Carlsson-Bull, the church's minister, in a letter to supporters. "This shows once again the power that working against injustice can have. Sujitno and Dahlia will be able to observe the rest of Ramadan with their own faith community."

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