Another church offering sanctuary to New Britain couple facing deportation

OLD LYME - A New Britain couple who came to the United States from Pakistan in 2000, has been ordered to leave the country.

Instead, they received sanctuary from the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme. Malik Rehman and Zahida Altaf said in November, they got approval from immigration officials to purchase a pizza place in New Britain but two months later, they were ordered to leave the country.

“We don’t want to break any law,” said Altaf.

10 years ago, they were ordered to leave, but won an appeal and remained in the U.S. as part of Immigration’s Alternatives to Detention program.

Three weeks ago, they purchased tickets to return to Pakistan, but, due to bad weather, their flight was canceled. So, they were rescheduled to leave this past Monday, but they decided they weren’t leaving because of their five-year-old daughter, Raniya.

“We want to keep her safe,” the mother said. “We want to give her a good education. And we want to fulfill her dreams.”

Raniya Malik also has asthma and other health issues that they said would be exacerbated by the extremes air pollution they said exists in Pakistan.

Her mother said her schooling and friends also swayed their decision to stay.

Because Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) does not usually apprehend individuals in sensitive places, like churches, the couple and their daughter were offered and accepted sanctuary in the Old Lyme church a couple of days ago. And, a minister extended an unusual offer.

“I would be glad if members of ICE wanted to join us for worship service some Sunday morning,” said Rev. Steve Jungkeit, Senior Minister of FCCOL. “We would be delighted to welcome them with open arms.”

ICE said the couple was on their radar beginning in 2008 because they did not depart the country, in accordance with the terms of their visas.