Indonesian Man Overstays Fulbright Visa By Decades To Teach Koran, Hides In Church To Avoid Deportation

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Joshua Gill Religion Reporter
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An Indonesian Fulbright Scholar sought refuge in a Connecticut church Tuesday to avoid deportation after overstaying his student visa by 30 years.

Sujitno Sajuti, a 68-year-old Indonesian man, came to the U.S. on a Fulbright Scholarship in 1981, according to the Associated Press.

U.S. Immigration  and Customs Enforcement ordered Sajuti to board a plane for Indonesia on Tuesday, but Sajuti and his wife, Dhalia, instead took sanctuary in Meriden’s Unitarian Universalist Church. He is the third illegal immigrant to seek sanctuary in a Connecticut church this year, according to the Hartford Courant.

Sajuti earned a master’s degree from Columbia University, returned to Indonesia and then re-entered the U.S. in 1989 to get a doctorate at the University of Connecticut, during which time Sajuti’s student visa expired.

Sajuti taught Koranic studies and Indonesian at several community centers and mosques in the U.S. over the past several decades of his illegal residency. He and his wife do not plan to stay in the church indefinitely, and would not be allowed to do so even if they desired it, according to the church minister, Jan Carlsson-Bull.

“We’re not trying to obstruct ICE,” Carlsson-Bull told the Hartford Courant. “He’s not going to spend the rest of his life here.”

A federal judge ordered Sajuti to leave the U.S. in 2003. He remained, and ICE arrested him in 2011 and detained him for 67 days before releasing him.

Sajuti has since remained in the U.S. by applying for stays of deportation, but ICE rejected his latest application in August.

“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,” Shawn Neudauer, an ICE spokesman, said according to the Hartford Courant. “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.”

Carlsson-Bull said the church would only offer sanctuary to Sajuti and Dhalia so long as it was still possible for Sajuti to pursue legal means of U.S. residency.

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