Two Midwestern immigrants — one reviled, the other lauded — are virtually the same to the federal government.
Which to bureaucrats within the Department of Homeland Security means they can be hauled off, literally dragged away from their families, handcuffed and flown or bussed back to their native countries. Their stories perfectly encapsulate what’s wrong with our policies, our attitudes and our president.
One is accused of killing an Indianapolis Colts linebacker and his driver. The other is a beloved and respected member of his Lawrence community.
Kansas City has been riveted by Syed Jamal’s story all week.
The Lawrence chemist barely escaped deportation — for now — having come within days of being put on a plane and sent back to his native Bangladesh. Granted a stay Thursday, he sits in a Texas detention center, his fate uncertain.
Jamal was handcuffed in late January by immigration agents as he prepared to take one of his U.S. citizen children to school. Jamal has been in the U.S. for 30 years, arriving legally, and he has taught at several colleges. His story is the quintessential American dream.
But his legal status complicated as he tried to shift between holding a student or a work visa.
The community flocked to social media, campaigning for his release. A Change.org petition drew 64,000 signatures as of Friday, a march was held, and the story was picked up by national media and by Hollywood celebrities like Alyssa Milano.
Many of his supporters were aghast to learn that Jamal had cooperated with immigration officials for years, reporting regularly under an order that gave him a temporary reprieve from deportation.
For many, it was a quick schooling in the topsy-turvy ways of immigration law and policy.
Second, consider the case of Manuel Orrego-Savala, a Guatemalan immigrant who currently sits in jail in Marion County, Ind.
Hours after the nation flocked to their televisions to watch the Super Bowl, Indianapolis Colts linebacker Edwin Jackson and his Uber driver were run over and killed by a drunk driver.
Police arrested Orrego-Savala, who allegedly fled the scene of the accident. He has been deported twice and is currently in the country illegally. His blood alcohol content at arrest was nearly three times the legal limit. He’s charged with four felonies.
President Donald Trump didn’t miss a beat. He pounced in a tweet to link the Jackson’s death with what he misinterprets as the Democrats’ reluctance to get tough on immigration and the border.
Prosecutor Terry Curry of Marion County, Ind., who vowed to try the case “vigorously,” pushed back. He chastised the “ghoulish and inappropriate” public commentary, including Trump’s politicizing of the deaths.
Curry spoke from the point of view of the justice system, which values placing blame where it belongs rather than vengeful scapegoating that casts all immigrants, legal or not, as enemies of the nation.
He also underlined where attention ought to be placed: with the grieving families of Jackson and his driver, Jeffrey Monroe.
Jamal was scooped up because, rather than prioritizing the deportations of violent criminals, including drunk drivers like Jackson’s and Monroe’s accused killer, the Trump administration is going after anyone who might possibly be deportable. No discretion is used.
It must be pointed out that some of Jamal’s supporters are inadvertently buying into Trump’s rhetoric that some immigrants are more desirable than others.
What happened to Jamal has also happened to countless other undocumented immigrants who live lawful, productive lives. Where is the outrage for the thousands of others who are also being rounded up and deported?
Previously, immigration officials made efforts to triage, to focus on the truly dangerous undocumented immigrants, distinguishing them from the roofers, the chicken plant workers, the landscapers.
Those people, too, have U.S.-born children. They’ve paid taxes and would legalize if they had a route to do so.
America needs to come to grips with the realities highlighted by these two cases. High- and low-skilled workers are needed in the U.S. Our demographics, with the aging baby boomer generation retiring from the workforce but in need of many services, will require it.
We need a comprehensive overhaul of our immigration policies so that they align with emerging labor needs and the necessity of keeping immigrant parents with their U.S.-born children. At the same time, we must return to prioritizing deportation cases for immigrants who are violent and not sweep up the beloved chemist or the person who cleans offices.
And that will only happen when we have a president backed by a Congress and a voting public who reasonably can understand the difference.