'Free Syed Jamal' chants take over the streets of downtown Lawrence, Kansas
Immigration officials were escorting Lawrence scientist Syed Ahmed Jamal to a deportation staging area in El Paso, Texas, when his attorneys learned early Thursday that his case would be reviewed.
An immigration judge late Wednesday had granted a “temporary brief stay of removal” for Jamal, whose story of being arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement while taking his daughter to school grabbed global attention.
The unexpected news will block Jamal’s deportation at least for the moment. Judge Glen R. Baker gave the Department of Homeland Security until Feb. 15 to respond to attorney Rekha Sharma-Crawford’s emergency motion to stay the deportation and re-open immigration proceedings that led to the Jan. 24 arrest of Jamal, a 55-year-old chemistry instructor from Bangladesh who had overstayed his visa.
The final decision will rest with Baker, said Sharma-Crawford, who stressed that the fate of Jamal, father of three U.S. citizen children, remains uncertain.
If Baker grants a longer stay, Jamal will have time to address his legal status in immigration court, said his brother Syed Hussein Jamal. The brother traveled from Arizona and joined scores of Jamal’s backers on Thursday in Lawrence, where supporters held a walk and were updated on the fuzzy circumstances of Jamal’s detention.
“Basically from here, we’re going to fight in court,” said Syed Hussein Jamal earlier in the day. “We’ll see how it goes.”
It was not known how long Syed Ahmed Jamal will remain in El Paso. He was transferred in the course of a day from a central Missouri jail to a Platte County facility and on to Kansas City International Airport.
Sharma-Crawford suspected ICE was intending to put him on a flight from Texas to Bangladesh without seeing his family again. She said the agency likely was unaware of the judge’s action.
On Thursday, Jamal’s wife and their three U.S. citizen children gathered before a crush of news media at their attorney’s Kansas City offices to express their thanks for community support. In less than a week, an online campaign drew more than 60,000 signatures to a Change.org petition and prompted hundreds of sympathizers to write and call members of Congress. A GoFundMe campaign has raised more than $37,000 in five days.
“I guess I’ve become an activist,” demurred the oldest son, Taseen, who is 14.
After his father was arrested, he posted a plea on Facebook saying: “My little brother cries every night, my sister can’t focus in school, and I cannot sleep at night...
“If my father is deported, my siblings and I may never get to see him again. He is an older man, and due to the conditions of his home country, he might not be able to survive.”
The movement continued at Thursday’s walk. An initial group of about 150 grew as pedestrians on Massachusetts Avenue joined in.
They hoisted a variety of signs, including one saying “I miss my dad,” carried by Fareed Jamal, 7.
Syed Ahmed Jamal, a Bihari ethnic minority, arrived legally in the U.S. in 1987 to attend the University of Kansas, but after pursuing a doctorate, he overstayed his visa. He has taught chemistry at area colleges and done research at hospitals.
Jamal may yet be sent back to his home country, according to ICE.
In an email that the agency sent to The Star earlier this week, “a stay of removal is a temporary humanitarian benefit. The stay is designed to allow the alien to get his/her affairs in order before they return to their home country.”
ICE said stays of removal may last up to a year.
As late as Wednesday, Jamal’s attorneys expressed doubts about his chances for a stay.
“Public opinion is not going to drive this,” Sharma-Crawford said. “It does not matter if these people have (children) with U.S. citizenship. It does not matter if they’ve performed good deeds.”
Immigration policies administered after the inauguration of President Donald Trump spelled trouble for Jamal. Last year, Trump rescinded a 2011 memorandum that encouraged “prosecutorial discretion” for noncitizens with strong family or education ties to their communities.
Because of the lifting of the discretion, ICE “has been given a clear directive that everyone is a priority for removal,” Sharma-Crawford explained.
For the past five years, since his student visa expired, the Department of Homeland Security allowed Jamal to remain in the U.S. and teach chemistry on orders of supervision. He followed instructions to report on a regular basis to ICE offices, where he was issued temporary work authorization cards.
As recently as January, his work permit enabled Jamal to secure a teaching position at Park University’s laboratory for advanced inorganic studies. Park’s chief human resources officer, Roger Dusing, said a check of Jamal’s papers through eVerify, a federally run data network, cleared him for employment.
Jamal also been an adjunct professor at Rockhurst University and Kansas City Kansas Community College. He has served on parental advisory boards at his children’s schools and last year made an unsuccessful run to fill a vacant seat on the Lawrence school board.
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.
Supporters of Jamal engaged in a massive letter-writing campaign and clogged phone lines of regional members of Congress.
“Although Mr. Jamal does not live in my district, I received many call from my constituents asking for my help,” said U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, a Kansas City Democrat, in a statement. He said he wrote to ICE’s assistant director, Raymond Kovacic, because “I could not sit by a watch a deserving father and husband and a contributing member of this society be torn away from his family and ripped from this country.”
Before the walk in Lawrence, the Rev. Eleanor McCormick of the Plymouth Congregational Church told supporters through a megaphone that they may have a long fight ahead.
“His legal counsel is asking us to amplify, amplify, amplify,” she said. “We need DHS to stand down so (Sharma-Crawford) can do her job.
“This is not just about Syed, but about all immigrants. All people.”
A spokesman for ICE, a part of DHS, did not respond Thursday to a request for comment.