After a hunger strike, rallies and pleas by local, state and federal officials, Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Wednesday granted Salma Sikander an emergency stay of deportation, allowing the New Haven mother to move her son Samir Mahmud, a first-generation college student, into Quinnipiac University for his first year of college.

Sikander, who has been in the United States for almost two decades, had been ordered to return to Bangladesh by Thursday at 9 a.m. Multiple motions to the Board of Appeals to grant her an emergency stay in the United States had already failed, when ICE granted Sikander additional time. The relief and delight was clear on Sikander’s and her family’s faces as they cried and hugged each other in a video shared by Unidad Latina en Acción, a grassroots social justice and immigrant rights organization in New Haven. Sikander’s supporters rejoiced at the stay, but some officials also noted that the process to get the deportation stayed was much more arduous than necessary.

“While this is undoubtedly good news for Salma and her family, it should never have gotten to this point. It should not have taken intervention from elected officials and hunger strikes from community activists for reason to prevail and for ICE to grant a temporary stay to a well-respected and valued member of the community,” Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy said in a press release. “Salma Sikander is not a bad hombre. She is not a criminal, and this ordeal has caused her and her family tremendous undue trauma.”

ICE spokesmen did return requests for comment.

The nine activists began the hunger strike on Tuesday afternoon outside the Hartford ICE office. One of the strike’s organizers, ULA organizer Jesus Morales Sanchez told the News that the deportation would be a “malicious” and “arbitrary” action against a “typical mother who is trying to raise her family.”

Morales Sanchez said the activists collectively decided to begin a hunger strike because they wanted to “send a message that they are willing to put [their] bodies on the line.”

He also noted that Nelson Pinos Gonzalez, an Ecuadorian undocumented immigrant who has been seeking sanctuary from deportation at the First and Summerfield United Methodist Church for almost nine months, participated in the hunger strike at the church in “solidarity.”

Pinos Gonzalez and the nine activists were not the only ones openly supporting Sikander and her family. A petition against the deportation garnered over 43,000 signatures before the stay of deportation, and many city and state officials spoke out at press conferences and rallies.

Earlier on Tuesday, only two days before Sikander’s scheduled deportation to Bangladesh, her family appeared at City Hall for a press conference with many local, state and federal officials including New Haven Mayor Toni Harp, U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-New Haven, Ward 10 Alder Anna Festa and a representative from Gov. Dannel Malloy’s office.

“I believe forcing [Sikander] to leave is counter-productive. What’s more, it is cruel,” DeLauro said at the press conference.

DeLauro called for ICE to use the “strongest discretion and consideration in this matter.”

Following the news of the deportation stay, DeLauro released a statement saying she would continue to work with Sikander, her family and her lawyers to “ensure she can remain in the United States.”

At the conference, Anwar Mahmud called his wife “his everything,” saying that all he asks is to be with her.

“My parents aren’t criminals … They have been model parents, and I couldn’t wish for any better parents in life but them,” Sikander’s son Samir Mahmud said. “Seeing my mom struggle like this has been a tough time. She shouldn’t have to go through this. I should be the one giving her the headaches. Not the government, not immigration.”

ICE was founded in 2003.

Ashna Gupta |