As public support builds for a college instructor from Lawrence detained by immigration officials, his attorney says the chemist and family man faces few options to be spared from deportation.
Syed Ahmed Jamal, 55, sits in a central Missouri jail after his Jan. 24 arrest for overstaying his visa. A Change.org petition drive seeking a stay of his deportation to Bangladesh has drawn more than 45,000 signatures since Feb. 2. A GoFundMe campaign has raised more than $30,000 in four days.
However, a shift in immigration policy early in Donald Trump’s presidency narrows the legal grounds on which Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, can extend detainees’ time in the United States, said Rekha Sharma-Crawford, Jamal’s lawyer.
“Public opinion is not going to drive this,” said Sharma-Crawford. “It does not matter if these people have (children) with U.S. citizenship. It does not matter if they’ve performed good deeds.”
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The law is working against Jamal, she said, because Trump rescinded a 2011 memorandum by then-ICE director John Morton that allowed “prosecutorial discretion” for noncitizens with strong family or educational ties to their communities.
Since Trump took office, the ending of discretionary prosecution has shifted attention from undocumented immigrants who commit crimes to what ICE calls “non-criminal” immigrants.
In the last three months of 2016, arrests of non-criminals numbered about 400 in the six-state Homeland Security region that includes Missouri and Kansas. Such arrests jumped to 714 in the first three months of Trump’s presidency.
A statement released by Sharma-Crawford on Feb. 7 said that without a stay of his removal — motions for which were filed with Department of Homeland Security on Feb. 5 — Jamal could be deported “as soon as early next week and before the Immigration Court can review the matter.”
Jamal’s supporters cite his 30 years of studying and working in the Kansas City region, where he is his family’s sole breadwinner.
He and his wife, who also is from Bangladesh, raised three American children who have excelled in school. The oldest, a 9th-grade son, posted a viral Facebook appeal to rally support for his father.
The family now is asking for help from members of Congress, among them U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins, a Kansas Republican who represents the west Lawrence neighborhood where Jamal was arrested while taking his daughter to school.
Jenkins has “initiated an inquiry to the appropriate agencies to discern the details of Mr. Jamal’s detention,” said Jenkins’ spokesman Lee Modesitt. “For privacy reasons we are unable to comment further.”
Hundreds of Jamal backers gathered Saturday in two sessions to write letters to the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees ICE.
Organizers have planned a walk beginning 4 p.m. on Feb. 8 in support of Jamal. The walk begins at the Lawrence Creates Makerspace office 512 E. 9th St.
Jamal, who has done research at area hospitals and served as an adjunct science professor for several colleges, most recently taught at Park University.
For the past five years, Jamal was allowed to stay and teach chemistry on supervisory orders. That meant reporting on a regular schedule to ICE offices, which can issue temporary work authorization cards.
But Sharma-Crawford said immigrants protected under orders of supervision are now being rounded up by ICE.
An immigration official this week said Jamal was taken into ICE custody in 2012 on an arrest warrant, though his attorney contends he’s never been charged with a crime. (A court records search revealed he was issued a speeding ticket in Johnson County in 2015.)
Jamal was released on an order of supervision in November 2012. The following year, an immigration board rejected Jamal’s appeal of his removal order but allowed him to remain free.
In an email to The Star, ICE explained that an order of supervision is not supposed to be permanent, but “gives the alien time to prepare for their departure from the United States.”
Many who read The Star’s coverage of Jamal’s detention posted online comments of outrage regarding the manner of his arrest — being handcuffed and spirited into a car in front of his family — and why the government would not use discretion given his U.S. citizen children, community work and career.
“All that a stay of removal would do is let him have his day in court,” said family friend Susan Anderson.
For a time Jamal held a H-1B work visa sponsored by Children’s Mercy Hospital. Jamal traded that permit for a student visa as he pursued a University of Kansas doctorate in molecular, cellular and development biology; he did not complete the degree.
In January, Jamal became an adjunct instructor at Park University’s laboratory for advanced inorganic chemists. The college says he produced an original federal Employment Authorization Document Card, known as an I-766 Form, at the time of his hiring.
The card was to expire in October 2018. Park ran his information through eVerify, a program run by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and the computer check cleared Jamal for employment.
“There is no reason to believe that he provided incorrect information,” said university spokesman Brad Biles.”We examined the I-766 Form and believe it to be real. If it had not been real, eVerify should have caught that.”
Online support for Jamal is pitted against puzzlement by many who note that the instructor had 30 years to seek U.S. citizenship.
In recent years, a citizen brother in Arizona had filed for a “siblings petition,” the family said. But even when a close relative sponsors a noncitizen, the wait can take 15 to 20 years — all the while the immigrant must maintain a valid visa.
“It’s not completely in their own hands,” said Sharma-Crawford. “It’s little like buying a lottery ticket every day for 20 years and people asking, ‘Well, why didn’t you win the lottery?’ (Immigration) law is broken.”
His family fears for his safety if Jamal is deported to his native country. He is a Bihari ethnic minority, a group that supported Pakistan in warfare that led to the independence of Bangladesh.