10 October, 2017

Why is ICE Deporting Law-Abiding Immigrants Like Sujitno Sajuti Who Have Been Living Here For Decades?

At 9am today, 68 year-old West Hartford resident Sujitno Sajuti must check in with the 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.
Mr. Sujitno Sajuti
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.

Yazmin Rodriguez, Esq.
"What happened to Mr. Sajuti during his studies at UCONN in the [19]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."

Sujitno Sajuti (l) and US Sen. Richard Blumenthal (r)
Photo Credit: Rev. Josh Pawelek
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.

Imam Kashif
Imam Kashif
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.

Connecticut's Lt. Gov. Nancy S. Wyman
Outraged over the state of this "immigration policy" Connecticut's Lt. Gov,Nancy S. Wyman, protested,
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
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.
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.
Sujitno Sajuti in his West Hartford, CT home
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.
What don't you understand about legal immigration?
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.

Sujitno Sajuti (r) with his wife, 
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!)

12 September, 2017

A Bronx Diamond in the Election Rough

NYC Council Elections, Bronx CD #18, Part 4

I would be remiss as a journalist were I not to include the candidate whom everyone in The Bronx's Council District #18 has been talking about in today's NYC Council primary race: Michael Beltzer. I am sorry that family obligations prevented me from completing this Part 4 of my series of articles on the candidates in this race until the morning of the election, as opposed to last week when I had planned to release it.

Beltzer is the third millennial in the race who is fighting the establishment's pick and who by far is the furthest removed from them. A Long Islander, he has made the Soundview section of The Bronx his home for the past decade. There, he raises his daughter, Isabella Rose, who attends public school, which is one of many reasons why Beltzer is such a strong advocate of public education.

In this way, Beltzer stands out from his opponents in that he supports free public education, including free public higher education such as through the CUNY and SUNY systems. According to a post on his Facebook page, he has been fighting to make the CUNY system free for NYC residents since 2013. Beltzer expanded on some of his educational ideas:
I'd like to try a pilot program that would use public schools, whose buildings are empty after 3pm. In a partnership with CUNY, we could offer certain college classes in these buildings after school hours. It's a proof of concept. People would take the courses for college credit, as they would be made more accessible. Getting a higher education is a matter of accessibility for many folks. We need to remove the barriers, the financial barriers, the physical barriers. People could also volunteer to teach classes for experience.

Being the quintessential millennial, Beltzer has immersed himself in his community, which also makes him stand out from the other candidates seeking outgoing NYC Councilmember Annabel Palma's seat. He described some of his community involvement over the years:
I have been a member of the local community board, Friends of Soundview Park, and the 43rd Precinct Community Council. I have passion and drive. I was highly involved in the community board's community-based planning effort and initiated four large community visioning sessions where people learned the basics of planning, land use, and zoning while sharing what they'd like to see, stay, change, and grow in the community. 
We had over a thousand residents come out, and it was a good start to informing people about possibilities they didn't know existed. A draft report hasn't been released because I'm running for office and community boards are political beasts. So everything from that is on hold right now. I'd like to take efforts like this and expand them, incorporate more community-based planning/decision making as councilmember for our district.
Listening to Beltzer was both mesmerizing and inspiring. Unlike the two apparent front-runners in the race, Beltzer doesn't believe crime is the number one issue in the district. Rather, it's the lack of political and civic engagement—an issue Amanda Farias also raised.
Many things don't get addressed because people don't know how to go about it, so they just complain and remove themselves (perhaps this is by design by elected officials). There is no avenue for people to express themselves, in political clubs or other organizations. Tenant associations don't meet regularly, people don't know about organizations or meetings. It's frustrating for people who want to become involved. Political energy gets sucked up by community boards and the local precinct council. There's also little to no participation from elected officials; e.g., only one elected and none of the other candidates showed up to any of the four community visioning sessions, despite everyone in the district receiving notifications by mail.

Also like Farias, Beltzer was a strong supporter of Bernie Sanders's presidential bid last year. In fact, he opened Bernie's two campaign offices in The Bronx. Beltzer called Sanders an inspiration, recalling how he came out of college uninterested in politics, seeing it as two sides of the same coin. But then he happened across some of Bernie's speeches on the Senate floor. Beltzer recalls thinking to himself, "Wow, this guy really gets it." At the time, Beltzer was working for John Liu's reelection campaign for NYC Comptroller. Most importantly for Beltzer was that Sanders has always pushed the envelope of people first politics. So when his campaign came to The Bronx, of course Beltzer was both excited and happy to help out.

Using Beltzer's social media streams, as I have done with Farias' and Elvin Garcia's, it's easy to see how grassroots of a candidate he is. Unlike Garcia, there are no political heavyweights backing Beltzer's campaign, no photo ops with elected officials and political operatives. Instead, his streams are filled with useful information, community-related tidbits, and pictures of his community and its members and leaders, such as the Rev. Carmen Hernandez, who is supporting Beltzer because she says, "He is a man of integrity, and a true friend of the community."

Hernandez, an LGBTQ, tenants, and disability rights advocate and activist, is an out lesbian and vocal member of The Bronx's LGBTQ community. She will be getting the vote out for him today. It was a bit of a surprise that she was supporting Beltzer over the openly gay political candidate, Garcia:
Just because you're gay or lesbian is not enough for me to support you. We have our very own selling out their own community. I maybe would've supported Elvin, but Elvin never bothered to meet with me. I support people with track records although I do give people a chance to prove themselves. The first time I saw Elvin he couldn't even look me in the eye. He told me to drop Beltzer for him, and I said no. I love Beltzer and I told Elvin it's too late, you should've met with me, which he never did. Michael not only met with me but supported my community's efforts for over two years. And that is what matters to me. It shows me the kind of person Beltzer is and who Elvin is. There is a saying when you care for the little stuff imagine what he can do for more people, and that is what the community needs.
Under his leadership as a councilmember in The Bronx, Beltzer sees his district as healthier, more informed, and more engaged five years down the road. He's proud that he helped get a number of women, especially women of color, as well as minorities, elected to the Bronx Democratic county committee last year, which is already working toward increasing community engagement. Beltzer will continue working on projects that bring people together. "People need to have hope, to feel hope," he proclaimed. He continued, "We need to do things for the community. I'm willing to work with anyone serving the community. I want the community to see that they can make it, they can do it."

Apparently the community feels similarly. In a recent Ringside Politx poll, Beltzer bested the field with 32% of the vote.

"I strongly believe he will be a great LGBTQ  ally when he is in office, and a leader for us all. He is doing it now so imagine when he is put in that seat. I know he will make sure we are all counted," Hernandez mused.

Michael Beltzer is running for a seat on New York City's Council in District 18, in The Bronx. Out of a total of seven candidates, three others have a real shot at winning: NYS Senator Rev. Ruben Diaz Sr, a political heavyweight with decades of political clout, Elvin Garcia, a political insider currently working as an aide to NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, and lifelong Bronxite Amanda Farias, a grassroots organizer who has spent her life serving her community.

Read Part 1: Can a Leopard Change Its Spots (NYS Senator Rev. Ruben Diaz Sr)
Read Part 2: All Dressed Up And For What?(Elvin Garcia)
Read Part 3: A Seed of Sanders' "Our Revolution" Blossoms in The Bronx(Amanda Farias)

05 September, 2017

The swelling has gone down A LOT but I'm afraid I've done something to it... #theyneedtobubblewrapme #imaklutz #accidentalselfie #accidentprone #toes #littletoes #littletoegoesbumpinthenight

via Instagram http://bit.ly/2iZ3J3H

A Seed of Bernie Sanders's "Our Revolution" Blossoms in The Bronx

Amanda Faria
Amanda Farias

NYC Council Elections, Bronx CD #18, Part 3

It took less than ten minutes from the time I'd sent the email to the time my phone rang. This can't be possible, I thought to myself. It must be a bill collector. But on a Sunday afternoon?

A short while later, it didn't take long for me to spot the maelstrom of information working its way down the block. There was a very familiar feeling here, not quite one of déjà vu but certainly one of comfortable familiarity. There was an ease with which the central figure I was focusing on worked with the people, not apart from them. "Yes, that must be her," I thought as I approached whom in fact turned out to be the person I was seeking, Amanda Farias.

We had only a brief moment to meet so that I could observe her in action on the campaign trail. Which, to be honest, looked not much different than her in action at work, or at home in her community. She engaged with people, spoke with them, cared about them, and empowered them—with information.

It finally came to me on the ride home, what made Amanda Farias stand out yet seem so familiar. The je ne sais quoi quality that sets her apart from all of her opponents isn't just that she is the only woman in the race for The Bronx's Council District 18. Rather it's that Farias is running for a seat on the NYC council to improve the lives of everyone in her community, to lift everyone up along with herself.

Farias is the true community servant, that politician of yesteryear who had authenticity, kind of like Bernie Sanders. And then it dawned on me: was she one of Bernie Sanders' revolutionaries? Had a seed of Our Revolution been planted and blossomed in The Bronx, right here where Bernie kicked off the New York leg of his campaign?

Later that evening, I had the chance to chat with Farias on the phone, and it was the first question out of my mouth. She enthusiastically responded, "I am very proud to have supported US Senator Bernie Sanders. For me, he is a direct reflection of my ideologies and political stances. And it's directly reflective of the race I'm running now, the insurgent running against the political machine."

Amanda Farias at Bernie Sanders's rally in The Bronx
Rather than rehash the old political issues, I wanted to delve into some of the lesser talked about areas, such as what gave her the impetus to run for office:
It was my desire to create long-term change. I mean, it's very easy to identify the issues but it's much more complicated and difficult in developing solutions that actually work. No one is invested in giving people the knowledge they need to engage with the system. Having worked on issues, we need to apply problem solving methodologies to teach our communities how to re-engage, how to find out what services are available, how to obtain those services, and how to begin holding city government accountable. 
We need to look at things through different lenses, we need to look at communities as a whole and implement solutions for everyone. The system shouldn't be too complicated. As elected officials, it is our job to work on behalf of issues and on behalf of the people who elect you. We must be able to provide both resources and the education to people so they can lead their lives more independently of the system and also so they can monitor it. We have to provide them with the tools to do so, as the people running the system, which is why transparency is so important. It's why participatory budgeting is vital, and why people need to re-engage in their government.
Our conversation was structured yet free-flowing, circularly tangential, an interconnected web of ideas fractalizing from one and morphing into the next. For example, we talked about the eradication of the concrete jungle via beautification of living and working spaces and how that leads to greener, healthier lives through urban gardening that increases air quality while simultaneously destroying pollution, which also provides therapeutic benefits while also allowing families to grow some of their own fresh, organic vegetables and herbs so that they end up eating healthier, eliminating fresh food deserts, all the while saving money by not only growing their own foods but not having to travel miles to a supermarket to purchase fresh foods (or purchase lower-quality foods from higher-priced bodegas) while educating their children about biology and ecology that also can lead to the sharing of cuttings and seeds with their neighbors, which increases social interactions producing positive community outcomes and community policing (looking in on neighbors, especially the elderly) and cooperation (lending a hand with watering neighbors' plants, cooking for neighbors, having building meals, neighborhood meals), beautifying entire buildings, neighborhoods, walkways, passageways.

Farias sees how providing such programs and information from her office about those projects can have transformative impact throughout her district, all from something as small and simple as planting mint in a jar on a windowsill. She sees how everything is interconnected and intertwined and that even the smallest of things can begin to have enormous, positive impacts with the potential to raise up entire communities. This is someone with vision, with true progressive ideals who has the capacity to lead others in transforming their lives.

In topic after topic during our phone chat, Farias continued to include and ensure that there was a connection, a tieback to community involvement and participation. She insists that the development and redevelopment that is coming to The Bronx, which Queens and Brooklyn have been experiencing that have priced individuals out of their homes and neighborhoods, must be done with the participation of the communities, i.e., community-based development, e.g., with assurances for living-wage affordability options, creation of community land trusts, reinvestment in the community, etc.
Another thing that everyone talks about is how crime is such a problem. Well to me crime is better now than when I was growing up in the 1990s. But what no one else is talking about is the pipeline that our Black and Brown brothers go up and down to prison, what are we doing to dismantle that pipeline, and why does it even exist? No one is talking about that. Let's put programs into place to prepare men to reenter life, we need to invest in transitional housing, in job training and work programs. Why aren't we doing this? These are decisions the political machine consciously makes, and we must change that.
On the subject of healthcare, Farias exasperatingly decried, "I will hold my state senators and assembly members accountable to providing every New Yorker with single payer healthcare that provides health services that are needed to maintain a person's good health. The Bronx can no longer afford to be the least healthy county in the State. Six years is far too long." Not surprising from a woman who lists friends and family among the three things she can't live without. Her phone and chapstick were the other two.

How should communities decide what issues were important to them? Should neighborhoods have town halls? "I would love to have Bernie-styled town halls!" Farias exclaimed. "We need to re-engage the community. I already plan on keeping extended office hours so those who work can access the resources of my office if they need to, and that includes being open on the weekends."

I asked Farias if being the only woman candidate presented any unique challenges. "Other than mansplaining (one of three things she admits she could do without, the other two being alternate side of the street parking and Internet trolls), the only issue I've experienced is having the signatures on my petition challenged. Not a single one was found to be deficient, and I've heard that other women who didn't receive 'permission' from the Bronx Democratic Party had their petitions [to get on the ballot] challenged as well." Weren't the Democrats supposed to be the pro-women party?

Just like her political hero, Farias has received the largest number of small donations out of all the candidates running in her district. She only takes donations from individuals, most of them in small amounts. "I don't accept any realtor or developer money. I will not be beholden to anyone except the voters in my district, which is the way it should be. We need to get money out of politics and eliminate opportunities for corruption." Farias stated.
The Current political machine makes decisions to limit progress that will help the people in our communities. I am excited to be in a position where I can fight for my community. I don't have to be beholden to any status quo, it's the difference between being a good advocate and bringing actual change to the community.
Which is why those in city government, and those who are part of the political machine are lining up and supporting other candidates. But those who are working to save our nation and create the change we need in our system not only to survive but to thrive once again are lining up and supporting people like Amanda Farias.

Great leaders don't set out to be a leader; they set out to make a difference. And that's exactly what Amanda Farias is doing. She's already made a difference, simply by surviving as a candidate in this race. And when she sets foot in the chambers of the NYC Council, they had better watch out because it won't be business as usual. And that is what scares the political establishment the most because people like Farias are the ones who bring about real change.

Amanda Farias is running for a seat on New York City's Council in District 18, in The Bronx. Out of a total of seven candidates, two others have a real shot at winning: NYS Senator Rev. Ruben Diaz Sr, a political heavyweight with decades of political clout, and Elvin Garcia, a political insider currently working as an aide to NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Read Part 1: Can a Leopard Change Its Spots
Read Part 2: All Dressed Up And For What?

All Dressed Up And For What?

NYC Council Elections, Bronx CD #18, Part 2

One freezing frost-filled February night in 2013, I first met Elvin Garcia in the back corner of a too-small greasepit of a Bronx diner to enlist his support in our work to build a new LGBTQ community center for The Bronx, he with his friend, I with mine. If it weren't for my friend, I never would have known what actually had been said during that meeting. Thus was my introduction to the insane world of Bronx politics. Both it, and the turkey burger (my standard diner fare) left a bad taste in my mouth.

At the time, Garcia worked for NYS Senator Gustavo Rivera as an aide. More importantly, Garcia was an out gay man in Bronx politics, something of a rarity (even to this day).

Garcia declined to join our efforts to build an LGBTQ community center.

In fact, when he moved to NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio's office to a position where he would have direct influence representing LGBTQ Bronxites' interests, he did little—if anything—to assist the grassroots efforts of those working to provide the sort of community and social support services that an LGBTQ community center could provide. And we did ask him for assistance on a few different occasions.

Even attending a pride awards dinner to present a proclamation on behalf of the mayor (the first ever such dinner to have been held successfully in The Bronx) was too much for Garcia. He kept asking to be allowed to speak so he could leave and enjoy his evening (everyone else seemed to be enjoying themselves but I digress).

Instead of representing the people—the community—Garcia seemed to care more about representing his boss, the Mayor. Rather than leading the people to his mayor's doorsteps to demand action that will enhance their lives, he has delivered a few programs that have fed his community what amounts to scattered crumbs. Take, for instance, the new ferry service introduced to The Bronx that bypasses what would be his district in Soundview.

Garcia holds himself out to be "A New Bronx Tale" but to me he appears to be the same tale wrapped up in fancier dress.

Why am I writing about my previous interactions with Garcia? To be honest, I'd much rather write about his policies and his responses from questions I'd prepared to ask him. In fact, I reached out to him personally for an interview back in June. When I couldn't promise an article that would fit into how and when he would like to use it to promote himself, he said he'd need more information about my writing and my credentials and would then get back to me with a decision. I never heard from him again.

Pictured (l to r) are Lewis Goldstein,
Elvin Garcia, and NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio
That essentially has been my experience with how politics operates in The Bronx. Has Garcia spent the past five or so years judiciously learning how to operate within NYC's corrupt and greasy machinery? Perhaps. But without making himself accessible and available to the press, it's hard to say.

Does Garcia have any original thoughts or plans? From reading his web site and other social media, it looks pretty much like all of the same, played out NYC politics just wrapped up in new packaging, all with the Bronx Democratic Party's and NYC government's stamps of approval. Again, without being accessible, those are questions that will remain unanswered.

Indeed, a quick check of his social media will find it peppered with appearances by powerful figureheads throughout NYC government and NYC politics. How can a new tale stand so pristinely on such a solid and old foundation? Shouldn't a new tale act more like the seedling by breaking through the ground, destroying the foundation and using it as food for growth into something newer, better, stronger?

The one thing I will give Garcia credit for is being an out gay man in city government. That's not an easy thing to be, especially in The Bronx. I don't know how much grief it's given him, if any. Hopefully it hasn't, because it shouldn't. But The Bronx can be a difficult enough place to live and work as it is, without the complications that come with being an openly gay individual.

It may not matter what the actual votes will be, because many suspect that whomever the Bronx Democratic Party decides they want the winner to be is who will end up being reported as the winner. The only way this may ever change is if the United Nations installs election monitors at every single polling location in The Bronx (among other places in NYC) and closely watches and analyzes the elections held and the results reported.

Many a Bronx voter knows (or highly suspects) that this is the truth, which perhaps is why The Bronx has one of the most dismal voter turnout rates in the nation: at times, a mere 2% of the voting population shows up at the polls.

Elvin Garcia is a decent choice. If he manages to win, he is a good Democrat who will do what the Bronx Democratic Party tells him to do and won't put up much of a fuss. He won't make waves, and he'll allow only so much progress as the powers that be in city government will allow the populace to enjoy. Kind of like Hillary Clinton.

But in my view, he isn't a progressive. And there's nothing that truly stands out about him or his proposals and policies. He's cut from the same corporatist Democratic cloth as his boss. So don't be surprised when gentrification has come and gone and nobody knows what's happened because it will have been a done deal made behind closed doors. That's how they want it to be. That's the sort of new tale they want to write for The Bronx and they are well on their way to having it written.

Elvin Garcia currently is running for a seat in New York City's Council in District 18, in The Bronx. Out of a total of seven candidates, two others have a real shot at winning: NYS Senator Rev. Ruben Diaz Sr, a political heavyweight with decades of political clout, and lifelong Bronxite Amanda Farias, a grassroots organizer who has spent her life serving her community.

Read Part 1: Can a Leopard Change Its Spots
Read Part 3: A Seed of "Our Revolution" Blossoms in The Bronx