Amid worldwide interest in the averted deportation of Kansas chemist Syed Ahmed Jamal, a bill introduced in Congress would provide legal cover for both him and his Bangladeshi wife.
Angela Zaynaub Chowdhury married Jamal in 2002 when he briefly returned to his home country. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested Jamal in the family’s front yard on Jan. 24, but they did not take his wife, who is the mother of their three U.S.-born children.
It happens a lot, immigration experts say. Men get deported at far higher rates than women, and yet the effects on families can be devastating even if a mother remains.
“If they detain both parents, then what happens to their American children?” asked Jessica Piedra, an immigration lawyer in Kansas City. “Many would wind up in the foster-care system.”
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According to ICE, males accounted for 93 percent of roughly 370,000 deportations in fiscal 2013.
Piedra said men are more likely to come to ICE’s attention because often, as in Jamal’s case, they provide all the income to immigrant households with children. When they report to ICE offices to obtain work permits, as Jamal regularly did, many get arrested under years-old orders of removal.
“ICE routinely will pick up the men and leave the women in cases of children,” said Jamal’s attorney, Rekha Sharma-Crawford, in an email Friday. “The hope is they take the men who are the breadwinners and this forces the women to leave with the children. In some cases the whole family leaves, in some the children get left behind because parents want them to have a better life.”
Relatives who are U.S. citizens may take custody of children whose parents must leave. But in any case, Sharma-Crawford said, “The family is destroyed.”
Jamal entered the United States in 1987 with a student visa to attend Rockhurst University. Fifteen years later he returned to Bangladesh on orders of voluntary departure. He came back to America a few months later with Chowdhury, and her visa was tied to his.
Jamal’s H-1B work visa, issued to highly skilled arrivals, allowed the scientist to work four years at Children’s Mercy Hospital. He then pursued a doctorate in molecular biology at the University of Kansas but overstayed his student visa. That put Chowdhury’s status in jeopardy as well.
Under orders of supervision and reporting regularly to ICE, Jamal was allowed to remain in the country and teach science at several area colleges until he was unexpectedly detained.
Chowdhury, who is a living organ donor, spent the years home in Lawrence raising their children. Their oldest child now is 14, the youngest 7.
Proposed legislation introduced Tuesday by U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins, a Kansas Republican, would make the couple eligible for immigrant visas or to adjust their status to permanent residency upon filing an application.
Jenkins on Thursday met with Chowdhury and the children at the Sharma-Crawford law offices.
Jamal’s brother, a U.S. citizen, in 2008 filed a family-based petition to seek permanent residency for the couple. But visa backlogs have prevented them from receiving green cards, said brother Syed Hussein Jamal.
In 2009, Syed Ahmed Jamal applied for a “national interest waiver,” requesting employment-based residency based on his education, professional skills and contributions to society. It ultimately was denied.
Jamal was narrowly spared from deportation on Monday when the immigration appeals board granted a stay of removal. The decision came while authorities were flying him to Hawaii en route to Bangladesh.
His attorneys are asking ICE to release Jamal to his wife and kids pending further legal proceedings to address their legal status.