Nadia Habib has been granted the greatest birthday gift of all – the gift of time.
The 20-year-old Woodside resident and her mother, Nazmin, were facing deportation to Bangladesh on September 29, one day before Nadia’s birthday, but the pair was granted a last-minute reprieve, allowing them to remain in the country – for now.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) temporarily prevented the deportation after meeting with the family for over an hour. The mother and daughter were placed under an order of supervision, which meant they were forced to surrender their passports, were not allowed leave the state and had to regularly report to ICE until a final decision was made.
Dozens gathered outside the meeting during a rally organized by the New York State Youth Leadership Council, an undocumented youth-led organization that works on improving access to education and creating equal opportunities for immigrant youth. The group has come to the aid of Nadia and Nazmin by collecting over 6,000 signed petitions and providing the family with an attorney at no cost.
One day after the reprieve, on Nadia’s 20th birthday, the Habib family finally received news they could celebrate. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services Field Director Christopher Shannan granted Nadia and Nazmin a stay of removal, allowing them to remain in the country for 12 months and cancelling the order of supervision.
“There is a huge sense of relief that I am able to stay for now,” Nadia said. “This is the biggest present I could have gotten – to be able to continue living my life the way I have been living it.”
Despite the positive development, the Habib’s attorney, Aygul Charles, warns that the battle against deportation is far from complete.
“The stay of removal is not a permanent relief and there still remain many hurdles to overcome before they can say they are permanent U.S. residents,” said Charles. “There is still a big chance that Nadia and her mother will be deemed deportable after the expiration of the stay of removal. Also, the stay of removal can be lifted by ICE at any moment.”
Nadia, who is majoring in psychology at Stony Brook University, arrived in America with her mother when she was just 20 months old, making New York the only home she has ever known. Deportation would tear her away from her father, who holds a Green Card, and three younger siblings, all born in the U.S.
“I was too scared about my daughter and my wife,” said Jawad Habib, Nadia’s father. “I cannot explain how scared I was on September 29. I have never broken a law here and have always paid my taxes. My daughter should be allowed to be here and study here. Her life here is bright. We don’t have anything in Bangladesh. If they are sent to Bangladesh, my life will break down.”
Nadia and her mother entered the country with a three-month tourist visa and applied for political asylum once the visa expired. On the day of their asylum hearing, Nazmin became severely ill and was taken to the emergency room. According to Nadia, their lawyer was supposed to attend the hearing in their stead, but did not. Nazmin’s doctor sent an explanatory letter to the court, but due to a clerical error regarding the doctor’s medical license number, the judge was unable to verify the letter’s authenticity and denied asylum.
In the decade since their hearing, the Habib family has awaited the fateful letter that spelled the end to their American Dream. On September 16, the notification arrived, informing Nadia and her mother that they had to report to 26 Federal Plaza to be deported on September 29 with no more than one suitcase each to hold their possessions – 50 pounds of space to pack a life in. If the pair is ultimately deported to Bangladesh, they will face a similar situation one year from now.
President Barack Obama took a step towards easing the minds of all undocumented residents on August 18, when the White House announced a policy shift that will focus federal resources on deporting convicted criminals and those who pose a threat to public or national safety. The change spares undocumented students and other law-abiding immigrants facing deportation by allowing them to apply for work permits.
Nadia hopes for a day when the Dream Act will pass, and undocumented residents will no longer live in fear and be subjected to discrimination. She also urges immigrants to unite and make their voices heard.
“You don’t know what to do when you are undocumented,” she said. “You are treated like you are not human; like you are an animal who is not supposed to be here. The government should see every case as a person; a human being with a life and a family. There is no such thing as illegal. We are all human. Everyone who qualifies for the Dream Act should speak up. I feel like the more out there you are, the safer you are. I want everyone who is undocumented to stay strong and keep their hopes up.”