The Asian American Cultural Center (AsACC) and the Connecticut Immigrant Rights Alliance (CIRA) led a discussion about immigration laws and violence against Asian and Pacific Islander communities in the Student Union Friday afternoon. The event included a video conference with Sujitno Sajuti, a 69-year-old scholar and activist who has been a target of policies regarding undocumented immigrants.
Sajuti came to America from his native Indonesia in 1981 as a Fulbright Scholar to pursue an education at Columbia University. He studied anthropology and returned to Indonesia once he completed his degree. He then came back to America in the ‘90s to complete a doctoral program here at The University of Connecticut.
“This is where Sujitno’s troubles unfortunately began,” Alok Bhatt, an activist who works with CIRA, said.
Sajuti faced administrative issues which led to complications with earning his doctorate. Before he was able to work out the issues with the university, he lost his student visa and became an undocumented immigrant.
Through periodical check-ins with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Sajuti was able to stay in America. He moved to West Hartford with his wife and lived peacefully as a devout practicing Muslim and youth mentor.
“So many people who had no one else to look up to would come to him for advice,” Bhatt said.
For the past two decades Sajuti has not only been a cherished mentor within his community, but he has taught Indonesian studies at local mosques and community centers, sharing his native language and culture with people here in Connecticut.
Stricter immigration laws, partially due to Islamophobia that spread post-9/11, dragged Sajuti into some issues with ICE and deportation. He was ordered to leave the country as soon as possible and was given a GPS tracking bracelet in early 2017. Bhatt and CIRA immediately began campaigning to help him stay in the U.S.
The country’s new administration has made immigration laws even trickier, and to escape deportation Sajuti is currently taking sanctuary in a church in Meriden, Connecticut where three other undocumented immigrants have also taken sanctuary this year. Sajuti is now working with lawyers to figure out his next steps.
“People who know how the system (immigration laws) works need to help people who are unaware so that they aren’t misinformed and don’t end up in trouble with ICE,” Sajuti said.
Sajuti stays hopeful even though he is currently incarcerated. He hopes to be able to stay in America so that he can continue to pursue his lifelong journey of educating both others and himself.
“Don’t give up what you want,” Sajuti said. “Take action.”
Yessica Osorio-Perez, an eighth-semester healthcare management major said the call with Sujito was eye-openning.
“The call…really taught me that if you know about immigration laws you should let other people know so that you can help them and prevent a situation like this,”
Before the call with Sajuti, Cathy Schlund-Vials, professor and director of the Asian and Asian American Studies Institute, discussed the invisibility that many undocumented Asian and Pacific Islanders face.
“When we think about undocumented immigrants we usually think of Latinx individuals, not Asians,” Schlund-Vials said. There are currently 1.3 million undocumented Asian immigrants in the U.S., but they are often completely ignored when we think of undocumented immigrants.
She also discussed how immigration bans, including the Chinese Exclusion Act and other laws that prohibited Asian immigrants from entering the US, as well as the idea of Asian Americans being the “model minority” has led to profound invisibility.
“Immigration bans placed Chinese immigrants as undocumented before that term even existed,” Schlund-Vials said.
Sajuti’s story puts all of this into perspective. It is clear that these immigrants do exist, and they are facing tough battles with deportation. It is important that we do not exclude them when we talk about immigration laws.
“Sharing these stories of undocumented immigrants is really important to raise awareness,” Schlund-Vials explained.
Melissa Scrivani is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.