An immigration appeals board has ruled to provide a new day in court for Syed A. Jamal, the Lawrence chemist whose arrest and near-deportation earlier this year for overstaying his visa sparked a grass-roots revolt.
“It’s a win, clearly” said Jamal’s attorney, Rekha Sharma-Crawford on Tuesday, a day after her firm learned of the Board of Immigration Appeals’ ruling. “His removal is no longer imminent.”
The board’s decision allows Jamal, a married father of three U.S.-born children, the opportunity to a full hearing on his arguments to stay in the country. His reprieve, at least for the next several months, also enables Jamal to continue teaching physiology and nutrition courses at Donnelly College and enjoy his kids’ participation in youth soccer and tennis.
“Previously, I’ve said I have full faith in the judicial system ... and this has shown to be true,” he said at press conference Tuesday at his attorney’s offices in Kansas City.
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“I was not really worried that much,” Jamal added.
His immigration difficulties date back decades. He first migrated legally to the Kansas City area from Bangladesh in the 1980s, but while doing research and teaching at local colleges and universities, his student visa lapsed in the late 1990s.
Jamal returned to Bangladesh, married and re-entered the U.S. in the early 2000s with a work visa that expired years later, unbeknownst to him, his lawyer says.
Immigration officials allowed Jamal to stay on the condition that he would report regularly to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which he did up to the week he was suddenly arrested in the driveway of his home, preparing to drive his daughter to school.
The scientist’s battle with ICE authorities quickly drew international attention.
Weeks following his arrest, Jamal was aboard an ICE flight that was to transfer him to Bangladesh from Hawaii when the Board of Immigration Appeals stayed his deportation.
A U.S. District Court judge in March freed him from the Platte County Jail to be with his family pending the final disposition of his removal case.
A federal immigration judge in Kansas City will likely hear the case sometime next year, Sharma-Crawford said.
Among the legal team’s options are asking the court to consider Jamal’s 30 years of academic contributions and no criminal history, or to argue that his removal would cause irreparable harm to his Bangladeshi wife and American children. Jamal is the family’s breadwinner.
“If not for a Herculean effort from folks who cared for him and his family ... he’d be in Bangladesh months ago and few in the public would’ve known,” said Alan Claus Anderson, a neighbor in Lawrence who joined Jamal’s legal team as an attorney for the Polsinelli law firm.
“We’re not at the end of the road. But this is a big step in the right direction,” Anderson said. “All we wanted from the start was to see due process work its course.”
Jamal’s arrest triggered proposed legislative action by area U.S. Congressional representatives Kevin Yoder, Lynn Jenkins and Emanuel Cleaver to shield Jamal and his family from deportation. A measure known as a private bill, extending protections specific to Jamal’s family, is alive but unapproved, Anderson said.
Thousands of area residents also have written letters and donated to a GoFundMe site, which exceeded its $75,000 goal, to support his efforts to avoid removal to Bangladesh, where Jamal says he would be subject to persecution.