Woman facing deportation speaks from inside sanctuary church

Woman facing deportation speaks from inside sanctuary church.

In a last-ditch effort to avoid deportation to stay with her son, Saheeda Nadeem moved into First Congregational Church in Kalamazoo Monday, the day she was scheduled to be deported to Pakistan.

“My only son is here and they are asking me to go back, I don't want to leave him,” Saheeda Nadeem said.

For Nadeem, 62, Kalamazoo is home.

“I am worried, but I feel safe here,” she said inside the church.

Hours later, Kalamazoo Public Safety officers pulled into the parking lot of the church because threats of vandalism and violence against Nadeem were posted to social media.

“She absolutely can’t be deported to Pakistan. That’s madness,” said First Congregational Church Pastor Nathan Dannison.

Nadeem hasn’t been back to Pakistan in 40 years. She moved to Kuwait at 18-years-old and worked as a server until she started her own family. Now divorced, Nadeem, her then-husband, and two children moved to the U.S. 13 years ago.

Dannison said, “She's never had any kind of criminal offense at all, she has a full-time job, she has a house, she's established in the community.”

He believes the situation is about community, not politics.

For more than a decade, Nadeem has worked as a caregiver at a group home in Kalamazoo. On Monday, she had to say goodbye to her job and the people she cares for.

“She's kind of their mom and they're pretty severely disabled and she had to explain to them that she wouldn't be coming back tomorrow and they didn't understand and were crying and sort of hanging onto her but she had to go,” Dannison said.

To avoid deportation, Nadeem must now stay inside the church.

According to a 2011 internal memo, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) policy limits action at places of worship, except in extreme cases.

Dannison said, “If she steps outside the doors of the church ICE could arrest her.”

What prompted the deportation now is unclear, Dannison said, “She’s kind of an easy target, she’s elderly, she’s not going to run away.”

Nadeem also works for Bethany Christian Services to help new refugee arrivals; some are teenagers to arrive without their parents.

“She was so sad because she had to say goodbye,” Dannison said.

Nadeem visited her daughter’s grave in Kalamazoo every morning, it’s a place a comfort she will no longer be able to go.

Nadeem’s daughter died in a car crash in 2016, about a month after she graduated from Western Michigan University.

Also, a Kalamazoo Promise Scholar, Nadeem’s son is not now taking time off from his studies at WMU to help him mom.

Samad said, “More and more she needs me not only as her loving son but as a caretaker, to her, I’m her only companion.”

The 20-year-old is protected from deportation by DACA until 2019.

“America is the only home I know and remember,” Samad said. If his mother is deported, Samad said, he will be forced to move to Pakistan, a country he’s never been before, to care for his mom.

“Not only does she consider Kalamazoo her home but that she contributes to it many times over,” Samad said. “This deportation would be not only a great personal loss but a huge blow to our community as a whole.”

A GoFundMe page set up to help Nadeem raised close to $1,500 Monday.

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