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Woman who feared deportation can leave Kalamazoo church after 3 years

“Today, I have freedom. I want to express my thanks.”
Credit: Courtesy photo
From left to right: First Congregational UCC Senior Pastor Rev. Nathan Dannison, MIRC Managing Attorney Susan Reed, standing Saheeda's son Samad Nadeem, seated Auntie Saheeda Nadeem

KALAMAZOO, Mich. — A woman who spent nearly three years at a southwestern Michigan church to avoid deportation can return to the community. 

"Auntie" Saheeda Nadeem is a long-time resident of Kalamazoo, Michigan, who began living in “sanctuary” at the First Congregational United Church of Christ in March 2018 after overstaying her visa. At that time, she faced imminent deportation to Pakistan, a country she left more than 40 years ago. Because of personal, family, and cultural circumstances, Nadeem feared for her safety in Pakistan and she explained that if she left the U.S., she would not only lose the support from the Kalamazoo community but from her only son. 

Nadeem spent nearly three years of her life living at the church. Prior to taking refuge at First Congregational, she used to visit the grave of her only daughter every day.

A lawyer for the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center (MIRC) says Nadeem has very recently been given a supervision order by the federal government, which lifts any imminent threat of being deported to Pakistan. 

The order, called an “Order of Supervision” will allow her to leave the church and return to her life and work in the community without fear of immediate deportation. MIRC’s said the ICE decision was based on new immigration enforcement priorities recently articulated by the Biden administration. 

“This has been an incredible journey, and it isn’t over,” said MIRC Managing Attorney Susan E. Reed. “Like so many other immigrants, Saheeda’s legal fight for dignity and permanent protection from deportation continues and we will continue to walk alongside her.  Auntie Saheeda is a dear person who has done nothing but care for others in our community; she gives us hope.  We celebrate with her today, we appreciate the government’s new approach to her case, and we will continue to work for a more just system for all immigrants.”

Nadeem said, “Today, I have freedom.  I want to express my thanks.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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