Government & Politics

ICE ‘playing God’ is surreal, says Syed Jamal’s son on father’s deportation saga

Lawrence scientist Syed Ahmed Jamal is back in the Platte County jail — two days after he was sent to Hawaii by Immigration and Customs Enforcement — and “in good spirits,” said his attorney.

At a news conference Wednesday in front of the jail, where Jamal’s family and several friends gathered, attorney Rekha Sharma-Crawford said they hope ICE will release Jamal pending what could a long legal process. The Board of Immigration Appeals will be asked to review his order of deportation.

“It could be several months easily before the BIA process is complete,” Sharma-Crawford said.

Meanwhile, the family is wishful that county authorities at the jail will allow Jamal’s closest relatives to visit. He will remain in federal custody, though it’s possible he won’t stay in Platte County.

“It’s a bit surreal just to know ICE is basically playing God and can do whatever it wants,” said son Taseen, 14. “Just being close to him, it’s a good feeling.”

Sharma-Crawford said Jamal landed at KCI at about 2:30 p.m. Wednesday and ICE officers took him to the jail, where he would spend the night.

USE SYED ME press conference
Angela Zaynaub Chowdhury (right), Syed Ahmed Jamal’s wife, shared a light moment with her youngest son, Fareed Jamal, 7, and daughter, Naheen, 12, outside the Platte County Detention Center on Wednesday afternoon while waiting for word from their attorney about visiting Syed Jamal in the jail. Syed Jamal was returned to Platte County from Hawaii on Wednesday. Keith Myers

Jamal’s journey since he was arrested on Jan. 24 by ICE while taking his daughter to school has provided insight into how efficient the agency can be.

In the past 22 days, Jamal has been transferred five times, including previously to the Platte County jail. He was sent to Hawaii apparently without his lawyers’ knowledge on Monday, after a judge had dissolved the stay of removal that he had issued to Jamal.

Within hours, Jamal’s attorneys filed a motion for a stay of removal with the BIA. At the press conference Wednesday, Sharma-Crawford said ICE officials told Jamal on the flight to Hawaii that a stay had been granted, “but we don’t know if it’s for you.”

News of Jamal’s return to the Kansas City area was posted on the firm’s Facebook page. Around 11 a.m.: “CONFIRMED: Syed Jamal will be back in Kansas City this afternoon. He is coming home.”

Around 3:20 p.m., the firm posted Jamal was back at the jail.

Before Jamal’s arrival, his family and a Sharma-Crawford representative said ICE — which transports detainees, often in groups, in both government and commercial planes — was withholding the time of arrival and airport destination.

“We don’t know for sure when he might be back,” Jamal’s brother, Syed Hussein Jamal, had said. Wife Angela Zaynaub Chowdhury also said she had no information on when or if her husband may be released from detention and reunited with her and their three U.S. citizen children.

An ICE spokesman would not confirm or deny the news earlier in the day, saying the agency does not discuss “operational schedules.”

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His return happened hours after Jamal’s attorneys filed a motion on Tuesday in the Western District of Missouri’s federal court requesting that the Department of Homeland Security transfer him from Hawaii or change the venue of his legal case from Kansas City to Honolulu.

Also on Tuesday, Kansas Republican Lynn Jenkins introduced legislation intended to allow Jamal, whose story has gone global, to stay in the country. The Bangladeshi native belongs to an ethnic minority there that faces persecution, his lawyers have said.

Jenkins’ bill would enable Jamal and his wife to apply for visas for permanent residence in the country.

Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer, a Johnson County Republican, refused to comment Wednesday on the Jamal case when talking to reporters at an event in the Kansas Capitol.

Jamal arrived in the Kansas City area in 1987 on a student visa. After completing undergraduate studies, he allowed the visa to expire and returned briefly to Bangladesh on “voluntary departure” orders, ICE said.

A research job at Children’s Mercy Hospital brought him back on an H-1B work visa, which he surrendered to pursue a doctorate in molecular biology. Jamal never completed his studies and ICE said he overstayed his student visa a second time.

On supervisory orders, the government has let him stay the past five years and teach science at a variety of colleges. He had legally obtained work permits in regular visits to ICE offices before his arrest.

In recent years, his family said a citizen brother in Arizona had filed for a “siblings petition,” one of a few ways Jamal could obtain citizenship. But even when a close relative sponsors a noncitizen, the wait can take 15 to 20 years.

Jamal’s supporters say that the U.S. legal status of 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.

Jamal’s family is holding out hope that he will be given the chance to return to his family and community.

“We’re asking ICE to do the right thing, do the family thing,” his brother said.

The Star’s Hunter Woodall contributed to this story.

Rick Montgomery: 816-234-4410, @rmontgomery_r

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