Jenkins, a Topeka Republican, submitted Tuesday the “private bill” on the behalf of Syed Jamal and his wife Angela Zaynaub Chowdhury, a Lawrence couple originally from Bangladesh who face possible deportation after Jamal was arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents while taking his daughter to school.
The case attracted national attention this month after a social media campaign by his friends and family.
Jenkins’ bill, which has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee, would enable the couple to apply for visas for permanent residence in the country. Jamal has lived in the United States for more than 30 years, originally entering the country on a student visa in 1987. He and his wife have three U.S. citizen children.
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“Congresswoman Jenkins has been actively engaged with ICE, USCIS, other federal agencies and his family on this matter from the moment Mr. Jamal’s family contacted our office,” Jenkins’ spokesman Lee Modesitt said in a statement.
“Meanwhile, she has worked with Congressman Cleaver to explore potential legislative options to assist Syed and his family. One such solution is a private bill,” Modesitt said. “She is urging ICE to allow Mr. Jamal to return to his family while this process continues and is hopeful that an appropriate solution can be reached for a man who has spent 30 years here and is well respected and valued in the Lawrence community.”
Jamal’s case has received attention from Republicans and Democrats on both sides of the state line. U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, a Kansas City Democrat, traveled to Texas to meet with Jamal at a detention center in El Paso.
Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer, a Johnson County Republican, refused to comment on the Jamal case Wednesday when talking to the reporters at an event in the Kansas Capitol.
The controversy over Jamal’s status comes at a time when Congress is locked in a larger immigration debate over the future of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which will determine whether millions of people who came to the U.S. illegally as children are allowed to remain in the country.
Jamal is currently being held at a detention center in Hawaii. His attorneys posted on Facebook Tuesday evening that federal attorneys have indicated that they plan to bring Jamal back to the Kansas City area, but that the “exact timing of that remains unclear. It is the hope of many that his return to Kansas City will be very soon.”
Jamal’s supporters say that the U.S. legal status of his Bangladeshi wife, Angela, also is in jeopardy. They met and married in their home country in the 1990s when he returned after completing undergraduate studies on a student visa in the Kansas City area.
“I think because she has young children who are citizens, from a PR standpoint they chose not to detain her,” said Jeffrey Y. Bennett, an attorney the family retained shortly after Jamal’s arrest.
Immigration experts say that two parents facing deportation would have to decide whether to take their children with them to their country of origin or, in the case of the Jamals, place them with relatives who have secured citizenship in the U.S.
His attorneys also lauded Jenkins’ bill to enable the couple to seek lawful permanent residence.
“While that process is time consuming, it is indeed an extraordinary event. Lawmakers from both sides of the state line continue to coordinate efforts and have shown eminence in leadership to support and protect this family,” attorneys for the Sharma-Crawford firm posted on Facebook.
Jenkins, a close ally of Republican leadership in the House, does not plan to seek re-election at the end of this term.
Cleaver’s spokeswoman said in an email that House rules prevent Cleaver from becoming a co-sponsor on a “private bill,” but she noted that “the Congressman fully supports the bill.”
The Star’s Hunter Woodall contributed.