Photo by Jan Carlsson-Bull

What It Takes to Stay

in Main Feature

I meet Sujitno Sajuti on a Friday afternoon in late February. He greets me, impassive eyes appraising this Chinese girl who has entered his house of worship, a mosque in Hartford, Connecticut, to hear the story of what he lived through: he was targeted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for deportation, spent 599 days in sanctuary, and finally was able to leave in the summer of 2019.

His face is lined with crevice-like wrinkles. He slouches a little. He came to this country when he was 32 years old. He is now 71 and has spent more than half his life here. And yet, he still has the threat of deportation hanging over his head. Even though he is free from sanctuary—where he took refuge in a Meriden church as a form of protection against arrest and deportation—his struggle with his immigration status is far from over. His legal team is working to vacate his deportation order as we speak, and until they succeed, he will remain at risk of being removed from the place he calls home. This summer, two Yale seniors, Jordan Cozby and Christina Pao, are launching a digital archive about the interfaith sanctuary movement in Connecticut, featuring Sujitno’s story. And as the next U.S. presidential election fast approaches, undocumented immigrants like Sujitno wait to see whether the past four years of increased deportations and ICE arrests will become a historical anomaly, a blight on the long arc of justice, or the new normal. 

Photo by Jan Carlsson-Bull

It is Ramadan in 2018. But Sujitno Sajuti and his wife, Dahlia, are not breaking fast with their friends from the mosque upon the evening call to prayer. They are in the meeting house of Connecticut’s Unitarian Universalist Church of Meriden, where Sujitno has been taking sanctuary from ICE agents since October 9, 2017. 

They share a small room, no bigger than ten feet across, on the second floor of an old farmhouse in the town of Meriden, Connecticut. They have a trundle bed, dresser, desk, and closet. It is not their West Hartford apartment in a brick building with wrought-iron railings that they have called home for the past twenty years, but they don’t have a choice. They must stay inside—Sajuti faces an ICE deportation removal order.

On Mondays, Thursdays, and for three days in the middle of the Islamic month, they fast. To keep his spirit strong, Sujitno reads the Koran. He memorises the Surah Ar-Rahman, a chapter in the holy book which calls for man to express gratitude toward Allah. He prays for justice. He and his wife wake every morning well before dawn, between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m., while a church volunteer sleeps in a cot downstairs, keeping vigil in case ICE comes knocking. The arrangement was made by the Chalice Sanctuary Team within the first day of Sujitno moving in. The team is a self-organised group of fifteen-odd church members who decided to contribute their time and resources to provide sanctuary to Sujitno. 

While the couple washes their hands, mouth, nostrils, arms, head, and feet in accordance with the Islamic practice known as wudu, the volunteer sleeping downstairs rises. On Sundays, while the congregation meets in the sanctuary to sing Unitarian Universalist hymns and light the chalice, the couple rests. Unitarian Universalism is a liberal, non-doctrinal religion that emerged when two separate faiths with roots in early Christianity, Unitarianism and Universalism, consolidated in the second half of the twentieth century. The church and the couple have developed a delicate rhythm to negotiate the differences between their faiths. 

I spoke to Sujitno and five of the people at the core of the complicated, high-stakes endeavour to protect him from deportation, which has spanned multiple years and involved a legal team, more than a dozen church volunteers, fellow mosque members, and many well-wishers. The story of Sujitno Sajuti and the Meriden church that sheltered him for close to two years is one of inter-faith empathy and the deep capacity of human beings to care for their neighbours.  

*  

Almost three years ago, on Monday, October 9, 2017, at 4 p.m., Reverend Jan Carlsson-Bull, then the minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Meriden, received a call from Reverend Paul Fleck, the pastor who initiated the movement to declare sanctuary congregations in Connecticut. Fleck informed Carlsson-Bull that Sujitno Sajuti was due to be deported the next day. He needed to find a place that would give him sanctuary, where ICE agents could not arrest him. The church’s Board of Trustees had voted to become a sanctuary congregation just weeks prior.

Immediately, Reverend Carlsson-Bull called for an emergency phone conference with the leaders of the congregation, including Nancy Burton, a midwife who would soon lead Sujitno’s sanctuary team, and several Connecticut immigration activists. By 8 p.m., they voted yes. The Unitarian Universalist Church of Meriden would become an active sanctuary congregation, and Sujitno and Dahlia would be their first guests.

Within hours, the team brought in a cot, linens, towels, and bathroom supplies from the church members’ homes and converted the empty second floor office into a bedroom. 

Fourteen miles away, Sujitno Sajuti was packing in his apartment. Just days prior, his request for a stay of deportation had been denied for the second time. Before Donald Trump was elected, he had been granted repeated stays of removal annually from when the original deportation order was issued in 2004. But now, he was fighting to remain in the country under an administration that was aggressively acting on the President’s post-election declaration to deport two to three million undocumented immigrants from the country.

“Bring everything, quick, whatever we can bring,” he told his wife. They searched for the few hundred dollars they had saved from teaching Indonesian cooking in Connecticut but could not find it. They later found it hidden in their Koran. Sujitno brought clothes, books, and, most importantly, his immigration documents. Dahlia took her wedding ring and a gold necklace from her mother, who had passed away in 1999 in Indonesia. Even though Dahlia was not at risk for deportation, she accompanied her husband. 

At the church, Steve Volpini, a former reporter, ex-Catholic and long-time acquaintance of Sujitno and Dahlia, helped them move their suitcases to the makeshift bedroom. Carlsson-Bull and some church members drafted a letter to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut and to the regional ICE office notifying them that Sujitno was in sanctuary with the Unitarian Universalist Church in Meriden.

At 11 a.m. the next day, barely awake, Carlsson-Bull held a press conference in the meeting room of their church—aptly called “the sanctuary.” Standing at the pulpit of the large room lined with windows, Carlsson-Bull announced that Sujitno Sajuti, ordered by ICE to leave the country by 10 October 2017, would take sanctuary in their church for as long as necessary to prevent his deportation.

A band of a dozen-odd Unitarian Universalists were soon to become experts in giving sanctuary. Nancy would take the lead. Steve would take care of food. Diane and Maureen would organize shifts for overnight duty—a team member would sleep in the church every night in case of unexpected visits by ICE agents or troublemakers. Richard and other members would do the couple’s laundry in their own homes. Sandy would set up WiFi for their guests. Peg and Carlsson-Bull emailed and phoned Unitarian Universalist sanctuary congregations around the country to learn from their experiences. There was a lot of work to be done. They needed to raise funds and find doctors willing to provide medical care to Sujitno if an emergency arose. “We weren’t sure how much risk we were taking as individuals and for the church,” Nancy said later. “But this was what we were going to do.”

The members of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Meriden were heroic in their last-minute effort to provide sanctuary to Sujitno. The question is, why was it necessary? 

One part of the answer involves the status of sanctuary institutions. ICE has an internal policy of not making arrests in schools, hospitals, or houses of worship. But even though all houses of worship are, in principle, protected spaces, no mosque has been reported as having offered sanctuary to persons under threat from deportation as of 2018. Sujitno’s mosque in Hartford, the Muhammad Islamic Center of Greater Hartford, had considered giving sanctuary to him. “We would have been the first Masjid to be tested with the laws that were already in place,” Imam Kashif Abdul-Karim said, “We were afraid that the Patriot Act might create new rules, which would not offer him the same protections as if he was a Christian facility. And we didn’t want Sujitno to be put under a test. We wanted his safety first and foremost.” 

They decided that Sujitno would be safer in a non-Muslim house of worship.

The immunity held by individuals in sanctuary from ICE arrests is not legally enshrined. This fact makes it unclear how safe Sujitno would have been if he had taken sanctuary in his mosque instead.

Less than nine months prior, the Trump administration had implemented the Muslim ban. But Imam Kashif and his wife had received death threats for being Muslim long before the ban, and were cautious of the possibility of anti-Muslim attacks. They decided that Sujitno would be safer in a non-Muslim house of worship.

The second part of the answer goes back to a law from 19 years ago, which first trapped Sujitno in the deportation order. 

The Patriot Act, signed into law in 2001 by President George W. Bush, allows the government to use law enforcement to search homes or businesses without the owner’s consent and indefinitely hold suspects, for the purpose of countering terrorism. The act spawned the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), which tracked the movement of mostly Arab and Muslim non-citizens. Like thousands of other immigrants in the US, Sujitno reported to the government under this system. But this action directly led to him becoming known to ICE. That’s when he was targeted for deportation. 

When he reported for registration, his counsel failed to advocate for him. She never discussed his eligibility to stay in the country with the immigration officials. The Immigration and Naturalization Service staff initially denied him the right to have his counsel present, but when they eventually allowed her to join him, the lawyer left early. Sujitno had to navigate the registration process alone. Sujitno was then served with a notice to appear that initiated removal proceedings, where his lawyer accepted a voluntary departure order on his behalf without fully informing Sujitno. There was no Indonesian language interpreter at the hearing, and the audio recording makes it clear that Sujitno did not comprehend what was going on. 

By signing the order, he had committed himself to leaving the country by February 6, 2004. When he did not do so, his voluntary departure order was converted into a deportation removal order. This was the removal order that ICE acted upon when they threatened him with deportation in October 2017.

“It should be understood that this man was placed in removal proceedings because he voluntarily complied in 2003 with the US government’s rather shockingly Islamophobic special registration,” said Diana Blank, Sujitno’s lawyer. Today, Sujitno speaks of his decision to register with NSEERs with regret. “I try to follow the rules, but in fact, it’s not really as it is,” he said. “There must be something wrong.”

It was 1989 in Jakarta, Indonesia. Sujitno was working as a public health researcher and policy analyst in the bustling capital city. At all hours, one could hear the pedicab drivers tooting their horns, motorbikes rumbling with exhaust, and neighbourhood cats sparring in territorial battles. Five times a day, the full-throated voice of the Muslim call to prayer echoed through the streets, under highways, and in mosques, drawing the faithful out of their homes and workplaces to face mecca.

He lived with his wife, Dahlia, whom he had met at a wedding in Jakarta eight years prior. Dahlia was a librarian and, like him, spent most of her time in the library. She was studious, like Sujitno. She came from a strict family, like Sujitno. And neither of them had much experience dating. They immediately connected and grew close. “We told [each other how we felt] by our actions, it’s much better than words,” recalled Sujitno. “It’s not like in the films.” A year and a half later, they were married. 

With a Masters in Public Health from Columbia University, which he attended as a Fulbright Scholar, Sujitno enjoyed the privilege of an advanced degree in a country where only 2.3 percent of the population had a Bachelor’s degree and over half had no schooling. But it was not enough; his colleagues at the Jakarta research office asked him, “Why did you come home? Finish your PhD!”

In 1989, he arrived in Connecticut, a state where winter lasts a third of the year. It was a far cry from tropical Indonesia. Eager to complete a PhD in medical anthropology, a small discipline at the time, Sujitno went to the University of Connecticut on a scholarship to study with one of the few medical anthropologists in the field. Research in medical anthropology, he believed, would give him a fresh angle from which to study public health, making him more employable. 

But before he completed his doctorate, his advisor took an early retirement. Without anyone to replace him, Sujitno couldn’t complete his doctoral degree. He tried in vain to find another advisor. 

I asked him if he considered returning to Jakarta at this point. “It’s too late, how can I go back to Indonesia?” he replied. “If I go back without a PhD, I’d be nothing.” He believed that his supervisor at work would stall his career advancement if he returned. “It would have screwed up my career,” he said.

For the next three years, Sujitno finished his dissertation coursework, worked at supermarkets, and continued teaching language classes for Bahasa Indonesia. His student visa expired after he had to pause his studies, but he gained authorization to work in the States. He and Dahlia moved into an apartment in West Hartford. She taught Indonesian cooking while he laid low until the national registration system for Muslim men was announced in 2003 and he came onto ICE’s radar. 

In December 2011, ICE agents arrested Sujitno at his apartment on the grounds of the 2004 deportation order against him. Under the Obama Administration, ICE agents were increasingly targeting undocumented immigrants. During the sixty-nine days that he was held in detention, he tried to remain positive and made dawah—an invitation to Islam—to his detention officers. He was released on 17 February 2012, having successfully filed for a stay of removal. For the next five years, he filed annually for renewals of his stay of removal, and they were granted each time. Then, Donald Trump won the presidential election.

“When he went into sanctuary, he was working with authorization,” said Diana, his lawyer. “He was doing everything that was in his power to comply with the law, except returning to a country where he had no means of survival.”

Under the Trump administration, his stay of deportation was denied for the first time since 2011. He found another lawyer who had one last chance to file a stay of removal on 6 October 2017. It was denied. Three days later, he entered sanctuary. 

Overnight, the sanctuary team and its members had to figure out the nuts and bolts of how to sustain sanctuary for their guests. They set up a Facebook page to advocate for Sujitno’s cause, wrote thank you notes to the donors, and met with the Meriden Police Chief. They checked whether their insurance policy would cover the added liability of having residents in their house of worship. Crucially, they learned what was required for ICE to enter their meeting house and possibly arrest Sujitno.

Sujitno’s situation was met with an outpouring of public attention and support. Unitarian Universalist groups and well-wishers donated to the sanctuary efforts, providing Stop & Shop gift cards for Steve, who volunteered to buy the couple’s weekly groceries. “You have two scholars past normal retirement age who were being ejected from the country after being here for thirty years,” said Steve later. “The sheer unfairness of this really angered people and activated people.”

As the days turned into weeks, the sanctuary team’s efforts became routine. Every week, Steve would go to the church, ask the couple for their grocery list, chat with them for a while, and leave to buy the groceries. The couple ate vegetarian, and the weekly shopping bags would be filled with fruits and vegetables: asparagus, dates, carrots, potatoes, onions, scallions, tofu, tempeh (if they had it), and various spices and seeds.

In time, the team purchased another fridge for Sujitno and Dahlia to use. Nancy’s book club sponsored a second trundle bed for the volunteers who slept in the church each night. The collective effort grew as other activists, Unitarian Universalists in the state, and members of Sujitno’s masjid, or mosque, contributed to the sanctuary effort. 

One Sunday soon after Sujitno arrived at the meeting house, Reverend Carlsson-Bull led a sermon focusing on loving your neighbour. “This isn’t an act of charity,” she said. “It was an act of being an ally and being in solidarity.”

And so they lit the chalice in the sanctuary of the farmhouse where they had, for many years, gathered each Sunday for congregation, a place that was now also a sanctuary for Sujitno Sajuti and Dahlia.

The symbol of the chalice has its origins in Lisbon during World War II, when a Unitarian Universalist Reverend named Charles Joy ushered Jewish, Roma, and gay individuals fleeing Nazi persecution to safety. He used a flaming chalice as a secret symbol to indicate that a building was a place of sanctuary. When the time came for Sujitno’s sanctuary team to choose a name, it made complete sense that they use the symbol that had saved many lives half a century prior. And so Carlsson-Bull suggested the name “Chalice Sanctuary Team.”

Social activism and justice is written into the history of Unitarian Universalism. More than 177 Unitarian Universalist ministers and seminarians marched with African Americans along the fifty-four-mile highway from Selma to Montgomery in 1965, protesting against continued segregation and the disenfranchisement of African Americans. Of the two hundred thousand people who participated in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963, sixteen thousand were Unitarian Universalists. Early Unitarian Universalists thinkers like Clarence Skinner and James Luther Adams espoused a vision for the faith that embraced liberal values, defended human rights, and fought to eradicate race and class-based injustices. 

The Unitarian Universalist Church of Meriden is a church of activists. Nancy Burton is on the board of the Universal Healthcare Foundation and is an advocate for healthcare reform. Steve had been taking part in immigrant rights marches outside the federal courthouse long before Sujitno took sanctuary in the church. A group of 20 activists, including several church members, filled the courthouse rows during every day of the 2019 court appearances of Miguel Castro, an activist accused of assaulting two judicial officials. Steve explains that he was defending an undocumented child who was to be separated from their parent outside a courthouse. On one occasion, when the church members arrived, the prosecutor asked, “Is the posse here again?” 

‘This is a church of midwives and school teachers, of factory workers and construction workers.’

“Most of us do not have deep pockets,” said Nancy. This is a church of midwives and school teachers, of factory workers and construction workers. But Nancy, like most of the others, was committed to upholding justice. Her favourite hymn, titled “We’ll Build a Land”, sings of captives going free. It imagines a world “Where justice shall roll down like waters, / And peace like an ever flowing stream.” 

As I listened to Nancy, I couldn’t help but wonder: if a small band of activists from a not-very-wealthy, working-class church were able to provide sanctuary to an Indonesian Muslim couple for 599 days, why couldn’t the United States, with its vast resources and diverse languages, allow the couple, who have spent thirty-one years building a life for themselves in this country, to stay? 

The mosque at Hungerford Street in Hartford is a handsome two-story house with a pitched roof and green trimmings—the sacred colour of Islam. In a large space where sunlight streams onto red and cream-coloured masjid carpet, over one hundred men gather every Friday to participate in jummah, a sermon delivered in mosques before the Friday prayer. The small bedroom in the meeting house where Sujitno Sajuti spent his days in sanctuary at the Unitarian Universalist Church was to serve the same function as the mosque—a clean, well-lit place for prayer. On Fridays, Sujitno led the jummah for himself, Dahlia, and sometimes, Dahlia’s friends. He sang the adhan and the iqamah, the call to prayer, before beginning to pray. It was not an ideal arrangement, given that congregation is important to Muslims, especially during Friday prayer. But it was a necessary one.

In the Hartford mosque, white square tiles line the wudu rooms in the basement. Water flows from the tap as the members carry out the ablution. While in sanctuary, before praying and reading the Koran, Sujitno and Dahlia would make wudu in the kitchen sink on the first floor with paper towels instead. But when members of the church were around, they would retreat to their private bathroom to make wudu, unwilling to invite confrontation by washing themselves in the kitchen sink. “Actually, it’s not okay to do wudu in the bathroom,” said Sujitno, explaining that the bathroom is considered unclean, “but when you have no choice, it’s different.”

Sujitno and Dahlia maintain a strict adherence to ritual fasting. However, at the beginning of their stay in sanctuary, this practice caused confusion and misunderstanding with the sanctuary team members. “When I’m fasting I don’t like to have guests. We don’t want to be negative,” Sujitno explained. Fasting is not just about refraining from eating; it is also about maintaining one’s spiritual focus. 

But as a result, the church members were unsure about when they could and could not talk to their guests. “There’s a lot of stuff we had to figure out as we went. They are Muslim, from another culture and another religious base,” said Nancy.

In the end, they decided to hang a small sign outside the couple’s bedroom door on days of fasting that read, “Our guests are fasting. This includes not focusing on material things and keeping the mind at peace. Please respect this tradition.”

Nancy and the team came to understand the delicate balance that had to be struck between the couple’s needs and theirs. If they were fasting or praying, the team gave them space to practice their religion. Sometimes, they would hear Sujitno and Dahlia talking in raised voices, arguing like normal couples. Arguing was a normal part of life, and the team did not want to intrude on their privacy. Most of the time, the couple kept to themselves. They cooked, cleaned, and prayed.

“I have never known a more devout couple than they are. I think that was [how] both of them got through this ordeal,” said Steve. 

Sujitno is thin and sturdy, but was approaching seventy when he entered sanctuary. The team worried that if he had a medical emergency and the team were forced to call an ambulance, he might end up arrested by ICE on the way to or at the hospital, as had happened to a ten-year-old girl in Texas. So they set about searching for a sanctuary doctor. When Sujitno needed eyeglasses, an optician came into the church to do the eye test and provide prescription glasses.

There were other moments of fear while Sujitno was in sanctuary. In March 2018, letters declaring April 3 to be “Punish a Muslim Day” were anonymously sent to families, lawmakers, and businesses in the United Kingdom. The handout listed a cruel point system that rewarded attackers with points for committing hate crimes: verbally abusing a Muslim would grant 10 points while torturing one with “electrocution, skinning, use of rack” would give them 250. Nancy called the Meriden police and spoke to a desk sergeant. She told them about the letters and explained that they had a Muslim couple in sanctuary at their church. “We would just appreciate a police presence,” she said. On Tuesday, April 3, the Meriden police sat in the parking lot of the church all day, keeping watch for potential attacks. “I was really really pleased. They really responded,” Nancy said. Thankfully, nothing happened. 

During their time in sanctuary, Sujitno and Dahlia became fearful that someone was watching them. “They were really somewhat traumatized whenever there was a fire engine that went by or a police car, flashing lights or something,” Steve said. “They would keep everything dark inside the church and look through the windows to see what was happening in the dark hours. Sujitno never so much as put a toe outdoors, the entire time, nothing.”

ICE never paid the couple a visit during the 599 days they were in sanctuary, but they had clamped a bulky GPS monitor to Sujitno’s ankle. The officials monitoring the ankle bracelet called at odd hours to check in on him, often early in the morning. “It seemed to me to be a form of harassment more than anything else,” said Steve. 

Sujitno organized his praying, visits from his friends, and his meals around the ever-present ankle monitor. 

Recalling this experience in his apartment months later, Sujitno showed me sheets and sheets of yellow legal paper stapled together—this was his log, which he used to do calculations and keep track of when he charged the battery, and the time he expected the battery to run out. If the monitor ran out of battery, the officials would call him. Sujitno organized his praying, visits from his friends, and his meals around the ever-present ankle monitor. 

For most of his time in sanctuary, Sujitno Sajuti had an application for a U-Visa pending approval by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, or USCIS. A U-Visa is a special form of status reserved for victims of certain crimes in the U.S. who have suffered substantial abuse, physical or mental. These victims must prove that they cooperated with law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of the crime. His lawyer, Diana Blank, saw it as his ticket to remain in the U.S., legally.

Shortly after Diana heard of Sujitno’s case in late 2018, Alok Bhatt, a coordinator for the Connecticut Immigrant Rights Alliance who had supported Sujitno since he entered sanctuary, raised the possibility to her that Sujitno might be eligible for a U-Visa, since he had been a victim of armed robbery in 1995. Diana, a staff attorney at the non-profit organization New Haven Legal Assistance, immediately got to work with her legal team at the Yale Law School Immigrant Rights Clinic. They filed for a motion to reopen Sujitno’s deportation proceedings and vacate the order of removal on the basis of the U-Visa application. The team then applied for a U-Visa on Sujitno’s behalf in February 2018. The process took over a year and hours of work by his legal team, who are working on his case pro bono.

Finally, in May 2019, USCIS granted Sujitno deferred action, a protective status stating that Sujitno would no longer be a priority for removal proceedings because he was deemed prima facie eligible for a U-Visa. The evidence was strongly in his favour. USCIS had issued a statement saying that the only reason he was not being granted the U-Visa immediately was that Congress had set a cap of ten thousand on the number of visas that could be granted each year. The queue was several years long.

Nancy was at a faculty meeting at the Yale School of Nursing when she received a message from Diana Blank. “Please call me as soon as you can,” Diana said. “When you get that kind of message you assume it’s bad news,” Nancy recalled. She called Diana, who told her of the judge’s decision. At last, Sujitno was no longer at risk of imminent deportation. 

“It felt wonderful to know that you actually can make a difference,” said Nancy. “You know that old Margaret Mead saying, that all you need is a small group of dedicated, committed people to really make change? It felt like we did.”

She held the door open for him as he stepped into the sunshine. 

The last day of May 2019 was the warmest day of the week, and also the day Sujitno Sajuti would take his first steps outside the white farmhouse in which he had taken sanctuary for the past 599 days. He put on a black kufi, white shirt and grey jacket. Dahlia, with her penchant for wearing beautiful clothing, wore a bright green hijab and a matching embroidered baju kurung printed with flowers. She held the door open for him as he stepped into the sunshine. 

His first stop was an ICE office, where he would be unshackled from the ankle monitor he had worn since October 2017. From there, he would go home. 

For Steve, the moment when Sujitno left sanctuary was bittersweet. The couple had become such a fixture in the daily lives and thoughts of the sanctuary team members. They had shared many dinners and conversations during late nights in the farmhouse. “We were losing him and he was losing us,” he said. Now, Steve doesn’t see Sujitno very often. But sometimes, when Sujitno needs a ride to the Hartford train station, he gives Steve a call. 

Nine months later, on a Friday morning a week after I first met him in the Hartford Mosque, Sujitno Sajuti and his wife are doing laundry in their white-carpeted apartment in West Hartford. The aroma of frying oil wafts from the kitchen, where Dahlia is cooking. In a spacious corner of the living room, a prayer mat is unfurled, facing mecca. A Koran sits on his crowded bookshelf. 

The journey of Sujitno and other people like him to gain legal protection and recognition continues. In his state of the union speech earlier that month, Donald Trump reaffirmed his desire to restrict immigration into the country, declaring that “[t]he United States of America should be a sanctuary for law-abiding Americans, not criminal aliens.” Sujitno, with his neat attire, staunch devotion to prayer, and measured manner, ought to meet even President Trump’s test of being a law-abiding American, if that test should matter at all.

I ask Sujitno what he would say to President Trump if he had the chance. He responded, “Trump’s wife is from another country. His father-in-law is from another country. Why should they become citizens?” he said. “It hurts me.”

There will be more court appearances and rallies to attend. The Meriden church will carry on with organizing pro-immigrant events. Activists and lawyers like Steve and Diana will charge forward in their ceaseless efforts so that Sujitno and Dahlia, and others like them, can continue to enjoy peaceful Friday mornings, making breakfast in their own home, which is a right that has been twisted into a privilege. On this day, Sujitno is preparing to catch a train, and Dahlia is making a delicious meal, dressed in a vibrant green hijab embroidered with pearl-like beads. Before I leave, he tells me he has been living in this apartment for a long time, more than twenty years. I pray that he will have twenty more. 

  Ko Lyn Cheang is a junior in Grace Hopper College.

*On May 16, 2020, the article was altered to clarify that Unitarian Universalism emerged when two separate faiths with roots in early Christianity, Unitarianism and Universalism, consolidated in the second half of the twentieth century.

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