Sen. Richard Blumenthal visited Malik Naveed bin Rehman and Zahida Altaf, to show support for the New Britain family and community business owners facing deportation who have been given sanctuary at an Old Lyme church.
When Sen. Blumenthal visited the couple, on March 25, 2018, he said that, “I am here, today, to renew my pledge that I am going to work and fight as hard and long as possible for them to stay in this country.”
“They have been here for eighteen years,” said Blumenthal. “They built a business. They have raised a family. And they are Americans in every way except in that they are undocumented. And the reason that they are undocumented is largely due to the lapses on the part of the lawyer who assured them that he was doing everything the right way. But he wasn’t.”
“Their reason for resisting this cruel and inhumane deportation,” added Blumenthal, “is that they deserve an opportunity to be heard and to be given the right to present the facts and the law that justifies their remaining here.”
The family’s new attorney said that their first goal in the case would be to win a motion to reopen in the Board of Immigration Appeals.
According to the Facebook page, “Keep Rehman and Altaf Home“, the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme is providing sanctuary to the family because it, “constantly strives to live up to Christ’s teaching, ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself.'”
“Thank you so much for your support,” said bin Rehman. He and Altaf offered thanks to those supporting his family’s cause, and especially to the church community at the Old Lyme First Congregational Church.
Roshanay Tahir, niece of bin Rehman and Altaf, who is helping to care for their daughter, Roniya, while her parents are in sanctuary, spoke emotionally about the impact of the deportation on young Roniya, and the fear of being separated from her parents. “She has become very clingy to her mother, so I know it’s harder for her to be separated. And I am sorry that they have to go through that. I know that it has been hard on my aunt and uncle, coming to America, being a part of the American dream, and having to give up their pizza restaurant while they are in sanctuary. I know that my uncle has worked hard for it. Eighteen years since he came into this country. Eighteen years he has been working for other people. Finally, he gets to have his own restaurant, and it gets taken away from him for doing nothing wrong.”
Student activist Jason Ramos spoke about the rising power of youth organizing coming into action as students rally around families affected by deportation policies, as well as around other issues, such as young people marching to advocate for gun control. “The youth are our future. They are our power.”
Members of the New Britain community have rallied to support the local family, who own Pizza Corner on Broad Street.
The City Council unanimously, with bipartisan support, approved a resolution supporting the family and sent a letter asking federal authorities to put a stay on their deportation, which was ordered by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for March 19, 2018.
Speaking in Old Lyme on March 25th, Ald. Eva Magnuszewski, the New Britain Council’s President Pro-Tempore, noted that she is the daughter of Polish immigrants. “My brother and I were born here, and this topic is highly personal to me because, if things had worked out differently, my parents, too, could have been deported. But, the way immigration laws were back then, my parents were given a path to citizenship, and they were able to stay in this country.” Magnuszewski asked Immigration officials to exercise their discretion to, “let this family stay here. They have a beautiful little girl, who is just the light of the world, if you see her smile, and are just amazingly good, kind-hearted people. And they did all of the right things to earn their citizenship, and the system and their lawyer failed them.”
New Britain Ald. Richard Reyes, also speaking in Old Lyme said, “I am here to support this family because it is the right thing to do.” He said that New Britain is, “a very diverse community. We come from all over the world. I would have to stand here for about an hour to tell you where we are all from.”
“As a Council member,” said Reyes, “all I am asking is to give this family due process. It should not even have to be due process. They have not committed any crime. They have been an active family in our community,” adding, “they are a wonderful family, and they deserve better.”
Marianne Hebenstreit, a New Britain resident speaking for ACLU People Power in New Britain said that the bin Rehman and Altaf family, “happens to be the third family in New Britain that our group has stood by, and, unfortunately, I fear that there will be many more families to come.” She added that, “New Britain is a city of immigrants, in the truest sense of the word.”
“We are the immigrants of this country,” said Hebenstreit, “and we stand, here, in solidarity with this family.”
The New Britain Democratic Party unanimously approved a resolution that, “supports the calls for a stay [for] the Malik Naveed bin Rehman and Zahida Altaf family because they are good-standing citizens of New Britain and help our city’s economy.”
New Britain resident Ann Speyer spoke in Old Lyme on behalf of the New Britain Democrats, saying that the Democratic Town Committee, “not as a partisan thing, but as a humanitarian action, passed a strong resolution supporting their place in New Britain. These people are good New Britain residents. They run a business in New Britain. We can’t afford to lose any more of our businesses.”
“To deport them at this point,” said Blumenthal, “would rip apart their family, tear them away from their community, shut down their business and eliminate jobs.”
On March 19th, the day of the ordered deportation, a large community rally was held at the Pizza Corner restaurant, attended by New Britain residents and public officials and other supporters from across the state.
According to the Facebook page, “Keep Rehman and Altaf Home“, the request for the stay has the support of State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, Sen. Christopher Murphy, Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty, State Rep. William Tong, South Windsor Mayor Dr. M Saud Anwar, New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart and Meriden City Councilman Miguel Castro.
The resolution approved by the City Council said that the family is, “being sentenced to deportation because, upon moving to the United States, their lawyer did not work to get them an extended visa and a path to citizenship, despite paying more than $6,500 to the lawyer.” The resolution added that, “the lawyer was sent to jail for fraud.”
The resolution says that the, “family pay taxes, have no criminal record, and own Pizza Corner on Broad Street in New Britain,” and, ”they have a five year old daughter who is a citizen of the United States of America, Roniya Malik.”
Magnuszewski said, about the Council resolution and letter of support, “People may ask why we did this,” as it is a federal issue. To that, she answered, “The question I always ask is, would I want someone to speak up for my family or friends if we were in this situation and the answer is a resounding yes.”
“This beautiful family lives in our city,” said Magnuszewski, “they have a business in our city; they have a beautiful little girl who was born here. They took the right steps to become citizens and they all deserve to stay in our country.”
“Deporting them would be cruel and inhuman,” Blumenthal said, “but also anti-family, anti-community, anti-business, anti-jobs. Really, anti-American.”
Editor’s note: Video posted on Facebook by Alex Villamil was referenced in the writing of this article.