Saheeda Nadeem has spent the last 10 years working as a full-time caregiver to refugee children in Kalamazoo and to developmentally disabled people. She's paid taxes but received no benefits for her work. Monday morning she was scheduled to be deported. That was until the First Congregational Church stepped in.
"I'm actually really relieved that she is here now because she doesn't have that imminent threat of deportation looking over her anymore," said her son 20-year-old Samad. "The church has told us that they will support us no matter how this goes."
The church offered her sanctuary and protection from deportation, said Rev. Nathan Dannison. She will be staying at an apartment at the church under strict orders to remain indoors.
"We will not permit ICE to deport her," said Rev. Dannison. "We will do whatever it takes to keep her here with her family."
Kalamazoo has been her home for the last 13 years, he said. She was born in Pakistan but left for Kuwait as a teenager to make money for her family back home. However after three decades there, she moved to the the area with her son, daughter and husband seeking a better life.
"She's a mother figure in our community," said Rev. Dannison. "We can't do without her."
The journey for them has been tough though, said Samad. She divorced her husband and in 2016, her daughter died in a car accident.
"It's affected her a lot," said Samad. "It's affected me quite a bit as well. For her it was something she hasn't fully recovered from. She's declined quite a bit since that time."
However she remained in the United States because her children were DACA recipients. Every year, she had to check-in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) until they deemed that Samad was old enough to take care of himself. That's when threat of deportation amped up and she couldn't apply for citizenship.
"The reality is that there's no path to citizenship for many many undocumented folks in this country," said Rev. Dannison. "If you're ever found to be in this country under-documented, you can never become a citizen. There's no path to naturalization. There's no form to fill out. There's no website you can go to. It simply can't happen."
Now the church is working alongside her legal counsel to re-open her case, he said. The goal is to keep her in Kalamazoo near her son and her daughter's gravesite which she visited everyday prior to living at the church.
Samad said he's grateful.
"With the church's support we have a lot of community backing," said Samad. "The church is very involved in the community. All of Kalamazoo is behind us now that church has taken us in."