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Family facing deportation will leave Old Lyme church Tuesday

Old Lyme — After seven months of living at the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme to avoid deportation, Malik Naveed bin Rehman, his wife, Zahida Altaf, and their 5-year-old daughter, Roniya, will head home to New Britain on Tuesday and resume running their pizza shop.

The church said Monday night that it would formally announce at a Tuesday afternoon news conference that the couple are ending their time in sanctuary at the church because Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials recently said they are not opposing the couple’s stay request, which is pending before the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals. The news conference is slated for 1:30 p.m. at the church.

“Based on that information, Malik and Zahida, together with their attorney, Glenn Formica, and the ministers at FCCOL, feel it is time to end their time in sanctuary, return to their lives, and await a ruling from the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals…,” the church said in announcing the decision. “Malik and Zahida are relieved and appreciative that the Government has not opposed their Stay filed with the Court of Appeals and would like to express their appreciation to the individual ICE officers involved in that decision.”

The couple’s efforts to avoid deportation to Pakistan have been supported by a large number of groups and individuals, including Connecticut's U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy and Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty.

“We sought sanctuary not to protest or defy ICE. We only wanted more time for our case to be heard,” the couple said in Monday night’s announcement. “We are very appreciative of the kindness we have been given by the church, the community and now ICE. It reaffirms our faith in the United States, and our determination to make this our home.”

Formica added, “This is a relief, but not a victory. For a little longer, America will remain the hope in Malik and Zahida’s dreams.”

The family sought sanctuary at the church on March 19, the date that was set for their deportation. The church said it offered the family sanctuary so they could work through the legal process and appeal their case to the courts.

The church said that during the new stay of deportation, Formica will continue to help them obtain legal status in the United States.

Rehman and Altaf entered the U.S. on nonimmigrant visas in 2000 but did not depart the country in accordance with the terms of their visas, according to ICE. They were enrolled in ICE's Alternatives to Detention program.

Two separate immigration attorneys they hired in 2001 and 2006 to help them stay in the country legally were indicted on fraud charges and went to prison. They even went to Canada to make a case for asylum but were denied and returned to the U.S. in 2005.

Rehman and Altaf were issued final orders of removal in January 2008. In 2015, they started making regular visits to immigration officials in Hartford, allowing them to get temporary work authorization and then Social Security numbers.

This past January they were ordered to leave the country, and their flight to Pakistan was scheduled for March 2.

On the way to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, they found out their flight had been canceled due to bad weather. They were encouraged by a group of Central Connecticut State University students whose family members have fought deportation orders to stay and appeal the deportation order. They then took refuge in the church. ICE typically does not enter churches to deport people.

j.wojtas@theday.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

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