Building a new life in sanctuary

OLD LYME  — The owner of a New Britain pizzeria hasn’t seen his shop in six months, because he, his wife and young daughter have been living inside a Old Lyme church, seeking refuge from immigration officials.

Malik Naveed bin Rehman, Zahia Altaf, and their 5-year-old daughter Roniya built a new life within the walls of the First Congregational Church.

The couple came to the U.S. legally from Pakistan in 2000 on non-immigrant visas, but stayed past their visas’ expiration dates.

March 19, 2018 marked the scheduled Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) deportation date.

What is a sanctuary church?

“We complied with all that ICE required of us, the deportation order was completely unexpected,” Rehman said.

The parents say that before their deportation order, they were happy to comply with all aspects of their routine check ins with ICE at the required checkpoints.

Church Immigration Director Lina Tuck says when the family first sought refuge in the church, faculty members sent a certified letter to ICE and all relevant immigration departments stating that they were in sanctuary at the church.

ICE does not usually apprehend individuals in sensitive places, like churches.

Rehman wears a GPS ankle bracelet that monitors him 24 hours a day, Tuck said. ICE can hear what Rehman says and can choose to speak with him directly from the device, she said.

To date, ICE has not chosen to speak with him through the device, she said.

Since the couple cannot leave the church, they can’t run their New Britain business, Pizza Corner on Broad Street. One of their employees is running the shop while they’re in sanctuary, they said.

Altaf reveals that when her and Rehman came to America 18 years ago, they wanted to live the dream everyone talks about. They wanted to work, dream big, and live the life they had always wanted.

Six months ago they were terrified that their family would be ripped apart. Roniya, a US citizen, almost said goodbye to both of her parents.

The family says they are thankful the past half year has kept them close together. Still terrified, the family has created a new home within sanctuary.

“Volunteers from church have taught me how to knit, I took a yoga class. I am learning so much I have never done before,” Altaf said.

Malik says his family has met many new people and learned many new things during their time living in sanctuary. He says they are grateful for where they are today, and are praying to go back home to New Britain.
living in sanctuary. He says they are grateful for where they are today, and are praying to go back home to New Britain.