Chen Guangcheng is the blind Chinese dissident who was recently granted permission from the Chinese government to defect to the United States after a difficult bureaucratic battle. He will finally touch down on U.S. soil tonight, having left China with his family today on a Newark-bound flight.

Though the Chinese government agreed to provide Chen and his family with passports and other necessary travel documents two weeks ago, Chen apparently didn't know he was leaving Beijing for the United States until Saturday morning, mere hours before his scheduled flight. The documents were delivered to him and his family just prior to boarding; once security personnel escorted them onto the plane, Chen and his family were reportedly sequestered in business class by a curtain drawn by flight attendeds, and reporters were forbidden from speaking with them.

The State Department issued a statement today lauding the Chinese government for granting Chen permission to leave. "We are looking forward to his arrival in the United States later today," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said. "We also express our appreciation for the manner in which we were able to resolve this matter and to support Mr. Chen's desire to study in the U.S. and pursue his goals."

Next fall, Chen, a self-taught lawyer who drew ire from the Chinese government for speaking out against the Chinese government's human rights policies, will attend New York University Law School on a fellowship. The Times reports that school officials secured a faculty apartment for him and his family, and have already furnished and stocked it with food from their homeland. And as for how long Chen will remain in the States, the Washington Post reports that the family hasn't made any long term plans. "We haven't decided how long we want to stay in the U.S.," Chen's wife, Yuan Weijing, told the Washington Post. "We'll see." And while Chen comes to New York with his wife and two children, he leaves many family members behind in China, including his mother and brother.