New Britain Couple Goes Home After 7 Months in Church

A family from Pakistan that has lived at an Old Lyme church for seven months to avoid deportation says they were leaving to resume their lives as they await a court ruling on their residency status.

Malik Rehman and Zahida Altaf, who own a New Britain pizza shop, have been fighting to stay in the United States for their 5-year-old daughter who is an American citizen.

They took sanctuary at First Congregational Church of Old Lyme and church officials said Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials have indicated they are not opposing the couple's stay request.

“We sought sanctuary not to protest or defy ICE. We only wanted more time for our case to be heard. 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,” Rehman and Altaf said in a statement. 

Officials from Immigration and Customs Enforcement said Malik Rehman and Zahida Altaf entered the U.S. from Pakistan on non-immigrant visas in 2000 but didn't leave the country in accordance with the terms of their visas.

“ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) will continue to monitor the legal appeals that Malik Naveed bin Rehman and Zahida Altaf, both citizens of Pakistan with final orders of removal issued by an immigration judge, have pending,” ICE said in a statement. “Since their cases are currently still pending in federal court, ICE ERO will await the outcome of a decision on those appeals before proceeding on their cases.”

The couple sought sanctuary in the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme on March 19 and walked out Tuesday to a crowd of supporters.

Before ICE agreed to let the legal appears process move forward, the church pastor met personally with officials in Hartford.

“I want thank them for not opposing the stay request and for working with us in this matter but I want to thank them for making what amounted to a humane and decent decision," said Senior Minister Steve Jungkeit of the First Congregational Church Old Lyme.

The stay request is pending at the 2nd circuit court of appeals, according to the church.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
Contact Us