Government & Politics

While on plane to Hawaii, Kansas chemist Syed Jamal granted new stay of removal

In a topsy-turvy day of court rulings, Syed Ahmed Jamal’s future went from being deported to being granted a second stay of removal.

And the turn of events happened while Jamal was on a plane to Hawaii, apparently sent without his lawyers’ knowledge.

The Lawrence chemist’s lawyers announced Monday morning that a judge had dissolved the stay of removal that he had issued to Jamal, who was fighting deportation to Bangladesh. By late afternoon, his lawyers announced that the Board of Immigration Appeals had granted Jamal a new stay of removal.

Jamal’s stay was granted at 4:33 p.m., his lawyer Rekha Sharma-Crawford said at a press conference Monday evening. At the time, he was on a flight to Honolulu, having been removed from his holding place in Texas. It was unclear if Jamal will be returned to the mainland, Sharma-Crawford said, adding that the Department of Homeland Security has yet to make a decision. Updates are expected Tuesday. As of 7 p.m. Monday, Jamal had not yet talked to his family.

“At the moment, relief,” a visibly upset Syed Hussein Jamal, a brother of Jamal’s, said at the press conference. “But this is outrageous. The rule of law is not being followed.”

About two hours before the announcement of the new stay of removal, Sharma-Crawford Attorneys at Law posted on Facebook that it hadn’t been notified as to “where exactly Syed is currently located.”

According to the post, Jamal was taken from the El Paso facility at 6:51 a.m., but the firm didn’t receive notice of the judge’s decision until 11:45 a.m.

“We have not formally or informally been notified as to where exactly Syed is currently located. We don’t know when ICE received the decision of the Court,” the post reads. “And we do not know how such swift action by ICE could have occurred if all parties had been notified at the same time. An attack on the system is an attack on due process.”

Earlier Monday, the firm announced that Kansas City immigration Judge Glen R. Baker had dissolved the stay he issued last week for Syed Ahmed Jamal because he didn’t think he had jurisdiction to make a decision on the matter, explained Genevra Alberti, an attorney with The Clinic, a nonprofit organization within the Sharma-Crawford law firm.

So around 1 p.m., the firm filed an emergency appeal and a motion for an emergency stay of removal to the Board of Immigration Appeals in Virginia. Because Jamal was still in U.S. airspace, the board of appeals had jurisdiction to make a decision on his case. If he had been out of U.S. airspace, “he’d be out of luck,” Alberti said.

Minutes before the appeals new broke, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials confirmed that Jamal was “in ICE custody pending his removal to Bangladesh.”

Jamal, a 55-year-old chemist instructor from Lawrence who has three U.S. citizen children, was held over the weekend at a deportation center in Texas. Cleaver met with Jamal on Saturday in El Paso.

ICE officials arrested Jamal on Jan. 24 as he was taking his daughter to school.

Originally from Bangladesh, he has lived in the U.S. for 30 years but his visa status has become invalid, according to his family’s attorney. His story quickly gained worldwide interest, including coverage on CNN and by The Washington Post and The New York Times. A petition to stay his deportation has collected more than 95,000 signatures and a GoFundMe campaign has raised more than $66,000.

Last week, as part of Baker’s ruling, he set a Feb. 15 deadline for Homeland Security to respond to his attorney’s motion to re-open immigration court proceedings to address his legal status.

U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, a Kansas City Democrat, had promised to seek special legislative relief for Jamal at a “Free Syed” rally in Kansas City Sunday. He issued this statement on Monday: “I will continue my plans to draft a bill to show how this broken and unfair immigration system affects families, who have responsibilities and deep ties to their communities. The system is broken. We need to fix these laws that criminalize hard-working, contributing members of society like Mr. Syed Jamal and that’s what I plan to push for in Congress.”

U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins, the Topeka Republican whose district includes Lawrence, said in a statement Monday that last week, she wrote a letter in support of reopening Jamal’s case to ensure due process.

Sharma-Crawford acknowledged “missteps” on Jamal’s part to maintain legal status. She cited jumbled immigration laws and an overly aggressive ICE for placing Jamal and his family in peril.

According to ICE, Jamal twice overstayed his visa since arriving in the United States to attend college in 1987. At first he held a student visa, then briefly returned to Bangladesh on “voluntary departure” orders, only to come back as a newlywed with an H-1B work visa to do research at Children’s Mercy Hospital.

Then back to a student visa: He re-enrolled at University of Kansas to pursue a molecular biology doctorate, which he never completed. The visa expired.


After being taken into ICE custody in 2011, immigration court allowed him to stay under supervisory orders to report annually to ICE. The agency granted him work permits to teach chemistry at area colleges.

In recent years, his family said a citizen brother in Arizona had filed for a “siblings petition,” one way Jamal could obtain citizenship. 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.

Democrat U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill said she was “beyond frustrated and angry” that she can’t get information from ICE “in a timely manner, and that we’re expending resources to deport a chemistry professor who has lived in this country for nearly 30 years.”

U.S. Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran, Republicans from Kansas, did not immediately comment Monday on Jamal’s case.

Three organizers gathered late Monday at the home of Susan Baker Anderson, a leader in the movement to free Jamal. They celebrated the news and discussed the whirlwind that Jamal’s case has become. They called themselves “the Mom Squad,” many of them educators familiar with the Jamal children.

“I’d like to know how much taxpayer money has been spent to expedite his removal,” said Marci Lenschen, a high school teacher familiar with Jamal children. “Anytime (law enforcement) has to fly someone around and rush things this way, something’s not right.”

The Star’s Bryan Lowry contributed to this report.

Rick Montgomery: 816-234-4410, @rmontgomery_r

Aaron Randle: 816-234-4060, @aaronronel