May 18, 2022

Old Lyme Church Offers Sanctuary to New Britain Couple Facing Deportation

Malik Nayeed bin Rehman and Zahida Altaf and their daughter.

The First Congregational Church of Old Lyme (FCCOL) has agreed to offer sanctuary to Malik Nayeed bin Rehman and Zahida Altaf, a married couple from New Britain – working in close conjunction with two human rights organizations, the Keep Rehman & Altaf Home Advocacy Team and the Connecticut Immigrants Rights Alliance (CIRA).

The church issued a statement today, which was signed by Senior Minister Steve Jungkeit, senior Associate Ministers Carleen Gerber and Laura Fitzpatrick-Nager, which opened, “As a community of faith, we have core theological values that unite us.  These include an affirmation of the dignity and worth of each individual; a commitment to caring for the most vulnerable in our midst; and an emphasis upon the importance of hospitality.  Those values are at the very heart of the Bible, but they also form the beating heart of our democracy.  These are values that bind and animate us.”

Emphasizing, “It is in recognition of those values,” that the church offered sanctuary to the New Britain couple, the statement continues, “It is our shared belief that immigration law, as it is being applied in this couple’s particular circumstances, is unjust. The couple came to the U.S. legally in 2000 on non-immigrant visas, according to federal authorities, but stayed past their visas’ expiration dates.  The couple tried for years to extend their visas and become U.S. citizens, but were misled by an immigration attorney who was later jailed for swindling other clients.”

Noting, “Connecticut Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart, the New Britain city council, the New Britain Democratic Town Committee – as well as human rights organizations that include the Keep Rehman & Altaf Home Advocacy Team, CIRA, Students for a Dream, Action Together and CHANGE – have all joined in the call for federal authorities to postpone the couples’ deportation while lawyers appeal their case,” the statement adds, “Our goal in offering sanctuary to the family is to help slow the deportation procedure down, give the appeals process a chance to work, and provide immigration authorities with an opportunity to recognize the injustices and flaws of the law as it is being applied in this case.

The concluding paragraphs of the statement read: “We believe that, with time and reason and compassion, the couple can receive the full, fair hearing and consideration they deserve – and that justice will prevail and they will be allowed to remain in the U.S. with their five-year-old daughter Roniya (who is a U.S. citizen) and extended family members. Deporting the parents would needlessly tear the family apart. In the meantime, we will be offering a safe, private apartment within our church where they can live while their legal team helps them pursue all avenues of appeal with legal and regulatory authorities.

The final sentences state resolutely, “As a community of faith, we have core values that bind us together.  The practice of hospitality is one such defining value.  We’re proud that our community can enact its commitment in a public manner, demonstrating who and what God calls us to be in this moment.”


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