AP NEWS

Family seeking sanctuary in church plan to go back home

October 16, 2018
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Malik Naveed bin Rehman yells "I miss you already" as Senior Minister Steve Jungkeit, center, and U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) look on as Rehman leaves sanctuary with his wife, Zahida Altaf, not pictured, on Tuesday, October 16, 2018 at the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme, Conn. The couple has been in sanctuary at the church since March of 2018 and left Tuesday after ICE announced they are not opposing the couple's stay request. (Sarah Gordon/The Day via AP)
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Malik Naveed bin Rehman yells "I miss you already" as Senior Minister Steve Jungkeit, center, and U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) look on as Rehman leaves sanctuary with his wife, Zahida Altaf, not pictured, on Tuesday, October 16, 2018 at the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme, Conn. The couple has been in sanctuary at the church since March of 2018 and left Tuesday after ICE announced they are not opposing the couple's stay request. (Sarah Gordon/The Day via AP)

OLD LYME, Conn. (AP) — Seven months after taking sanctuary in a church to avoid deportation, a family from Pakistan is returning to their Connecticut home and resuming operations of their pizza shop as they await a ruling on their residency status.

The First Congregational Church of Old Lyme, which took in the family, said Tuesday that Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials have indicated they are not opposing the couple’s stay request pending with a federal appeals court.

Malik Naveed bin Rehman, his wife Zahida Altaf and their 5-year-old daughter Roniya, a U.S. citizen, sought sanctuary at the church on March 19 after being ordered to leave the country. The church said it allowed the family to stay while they challenged a deportation order in the courts. The family left the church on Tuesday to return to their home and restaurant in New Britain, the Pizza Corner.

The family and their lawyers plan to continue pursuing legal status to stay in the country.

Church Senior Minister Steve Jungkeit offered thanks to parishioners, volunteers who helped the family and immigration officials.

“We’re utterly grateful for the unopposed stay request,” he said in a prepared statement. “But more than that, we’re grateful for all we have experienced and learned as a result of this experiment in compassion.”

The couple said the support and consideration they received from the church and government officials reaffirms their determination to make the U.S. their home.

“We sought sanctuary not to protest or defy ICE,” they said. “We only wanted more time for our case to be heard.”

The couple came to the United States in 2000 and stayed past their visa expiration dates, according to federal officials. In their efforts to extend their visas and become U.S. citizens, the couple was misled by an immigration attorney who was later jailed for defrauding other clients, church officials said.