Crying out, “This is right! We are right!” U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver promised Sunday to seek special legislative relief for Lawrence chemist Syed Ahmed Jamal, while pledging to continue fighting for an immigration reform bill.
Jamal’s recent arrest by Immigration and Customs Enforcement sparked the “Free Syed” rally in Kansas City where Cleaver spoke. The event drew more than 100 people seeking aid for Jamal’s family and other families threatened by deportation. The story of Jamal’s arrest last month has drawn national attention in recent days.
“We are people of compassion,” Cleaver told the crowd at All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church at 4501 Walnut St. “This is about human beings.”
Cleaver, a Kansas City Democrat, met with Jamal Saturday at the Texas detention center where he is being held. Cleaver carried with him a drawing of a dragon by Jamal’s 7-year-old son, Fareed, with the message, “I miss my dad.”
Jamal’s family joined the Sunday rally and Fareed brought the picture, telling The Star “I drew a dragon because I thought it would make my dad happy.”
And he was happy, Cleaver assured the child. “Some people, when they are happy, they cry,” Cleaver said, speaking of Jamal’s tears during their meeting in Texas. “He was happy.”
Cleaver announced he plans to advance special legislation early this week that would apply specifically to Jamal, seeking to release him from custody and secure his legal status.
Immigration officials arrested Jamal, a 55-year-old chemistry instructor from Bangladesh, on Jan. 24 while he was taking his daughter to school. Jamal has lived in the U.S. for 30 years but his visa status has become invalid, according his family’s attorney.
Cleaver and others speaking at the rally pledged to work for legislative relief for thousands of families and individuals whose lives are in turmoil as they fear arrests and deportation because of their uncertain status under U.S. immigration laws.
The crowd heard a plea from a 32-year-old Kansas City woman named Yasmin whose husband —and the father of their four sons — has been taken into custody by ICE.
Like Jamal, Yasmin’s husband was in the U.S. legally, in his case on a work permit, immigration attorney Jessica Piedra told the crowd. The husband had checked in with the immigration office as required, Piedra said, but for many people, “they go to check-ins, but don’t come back out.”
Yasmin, who asked that her last name not be published, spoke in Spanish with an interpreter, saying her husband “is the sole provider. He takes care of my family.” In tears, she said, “I hope God hears us and brings him home.”
Speakers Sunday also advocated for relief for “Dreamers” — the approximately 800,000 individuals who were brought to the U.S. as young children whose legal status has been protected under DACA, the immigration policy of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
Several versions of a proposed DREAM Act over the years have gone before Congress that would provide conditional residency status for individuals, but the legislation remains in limbo.
Jamal’s younger brother, Syed Hussain Jamal, said his family is also thinking of others that are threatened with deportation as they call for support.
As he spoke, the arrested Jamal’s children looked on, one of them holding a small American flag in her hand.
“We want to help you,” Hussain Jamal said. “It is not easy,” he said about the wide public scrutiny over his brother’s arrest, “but if it will help another family coming up, we are willing to take that chance.”
Cleaver has also reached out directly to President Donald Trump on Jamal’s behalf.
In a letter to Trump Thursday, Cleaver asked that Jamal be released from custody so that he can see his family and prepare for his appearance before a judge.
“Keeping a loving and nurturing family together is not just a good thing, it is the whole thing,” Cleaver wrote. “It is a moral imperative that we immediately halt Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s focus on families and refocus their limited resources on the persecution of violent, criminal offenders within our communities.”
On Wednesday, Judge Glen R. Baker of the Kansas City Immigration Court issued a temporary stay of removal for Jamal and set a Feb. 15 deadline for the Department of Homeland Security to respond to his attorneys’ motion to re-open immigration court proceedings to address his legal status.
Jamal remains in a deportation staging area in Texas and, depending on the outcome of his case, he could yet be sent back to Bangladesh.
Cleaver stressed that he does not intend to “demonize” ICE or other federal institutions. The federal agents, he said, are doing what they are directed to do. The nation needs immigration reform as a “moral necessity,” he said.
“We are better than this.”