Chemistry professor arrested by ICE on his front lawn won't be deported for now

  • Amy B Wang and Maria Sacchetti
  • The Washington Post
9:24 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018 Atlanta News

A Kansas chemistry professor from Bangladesh who has lived in the United States for more than 30 years - and who was arrested by immigration officials on his front lawn Jan. 24 - has been granted a temporary stay of deportation, his attorney said Thursday morning.

The ruling means Syed Ahmed Jamal will be allowed to remain in the country while an immigration court hears his case. The temporary stay came as a surprise to Jamal's friends and family members, who said there had been indications that Jamal could have been deported as early as Friday.

Jamal's brother and oldest son were eating breakfast at the home of Susan Baker-Anderson, a friend and neighbor of the Jamal family, when they found out about the stay through an all-caps text message from their attorney.

"We just all started crying because it's given us some hope," Baker-Anderson told The Washington Post. "It means that a court can really be able to look over his case."

Officials from Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested Jamal outside his home in Lawrence, Kansas, more than two weeks ago as he was getting ready to take his daughter to school. Before Jamal, 55, could say goodbye to his wife and three children, the ICE agents detained him and led him away in handcuffs.

The oldest child, 14-year-old Taseen, later told the Kansas City Star that ICE agents warned his mother that she could be charged with interfering if she tried to hug Jamal goodbye on their front lawn. Early Thursday morning, Taseen and his sister appeared on CNN with their uncle to talk about what a shock the arrest was.

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"We were just about to drive off to school when an ICE officer came and tapped on the window," 12-year-old Naheen Jamal told CNN. "I'd heard that things like this was going around in America, but I didn't really think it would happen to us."

The arrest of a "beloved Lawrence family man, scientist and community leader," as a GoFundMe page describes him, triggered a groundswell of support from Jamal's friends and neighbors in the Kansas City area, where he has lived since arriving in the United States on a student visa from Bangladesh more than 30 years ago. He would go on to attain graduate degrees in molecular biosciences and pharmaceutical engineering, then settle in Lawrence to raise a family.

Along the way, he switched from student visas to an H-1B visa for highly skilled workers, then back to a student visa when he enrolled in a doctoral program, his family said. At the time of his arrest, Jamal was on a temporary work permit, teaching chemistry as an adjunct professor at Park University in Kansas City and conducting research at local hospitals.

A Change.org petition went up Feb. 2 in support of a stay of removal for Jamal, and it has since garnered more than 50,000 signatures. Jamal, the petitioners argued, was the very sort of model citizen who should be allowed to remain in the country. Since his arrest, several lawmakers and public figures also expressed concern that Jamal could be deported.

"Although Mr. Jamal does not live in my district . . . I could not sit by and watch a deserving father and husband and a contributing member of this society be torn away from his family and ripped from this country," Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., said in a statement.

Nevertheless, there were doubts that public opinion would be enough to persuade an immigration judge to grant Jamal a stay of deportation, Rekha Sharma-Crawford, an attorney for the family, told The Post late Wednesday night.

On Wednesday, Jamal was moved from a jail in Morgan County, Missouri - where he had been held since his arrest - to a detention facility closer to the Kansas City airport, according to copies of ICE paperwork. The transfer was an indication that immigration officials were planning to move ahead with an imminent deportation, perhaps as early as Friday, Sharma-Crawford said then.

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"The problem is that the government holds all the cards," Sharma-Crawford said late Wednesday night. "We've got a motion in play. It's pending. We've asked the court for a stay. We've taken all the steps that we can in order to make sure that the due process is honored, but if the government deports him and pretty well pull the rug out from under us, then we're done."

An ICE spokesman declined to comment on updates in Jamal's case Thursday morning, saying that "for operational security reasons, ICE does not provide advance notification of its deportations schedules." The agency did not immediately respond to questions about a temporary stay of deportation for Jamal.

Jamal's case highlights a shift in immigration policy since President Donald Trump took office and is the latest example of ICE arresting a noncitizen without a criminal record who was, under Obama-era directives, allowed to stay in the country because they were seen as contributing positively to society.

ICE said that, while Jamal entered the country legally, he twice overstayed a visa and in 2011 violated a judge's order to leave the country. The agency initially reported that Jamal had been arrested on a misdemeanor charge in 2012 but issued a new statement Monday night after it could not confirm the charge. A spokesman for the Shawnee Police Department in Kansas said Jamal was stopped for a traffic violation in 2012 but not charged.

Sharma-Crawford said Jamal has nothing on his criminal record beyond traffic violations.

In repeated statements, an ICE official said that the agency "continues to focus its enforcement resources on individuals who pose a threat to national security, public safety and border security." However, the agency has also made clear that it "does not exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement" if a judge has ordered them deported.

"All of those in violation of the immigration laws may be subject to immigration arrest, detention and, if found removable by final order, removal from the United States," the statement said.

Shortly after he was elected in November 2016, Trump vowed to deport 2 million to 3 million undocumented immigrants immediately after his inauguration, saying the focus would be on those with criminal records.

During the first year of Trump's presidency, however, many immigrants who were previously allowed to stay found themselves swept up by ICE, such as in the recent case of a Michigan father, too old to qualify for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, who was deported to Mexico after three decades in the United States. In January, ICE targeted 7-Eleven stores in a nationwide sweep for unauthorized workers and, later that month, detained a Polish doctor and green card holder who had lived in the United States for nearly 40 years.

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"It's a very alarming trend," Sharma-Crawford said. "These are long-term people following the rules, trying to do the right thing. I think this ripping them from the fabric of the communities that they live in, that's very traumatic."

In 2011, after Jamal's visa status became invalid, he was given a "voluntary departure" order to leave the United States. After he did not, the voluntary departure order became a final deportation order, meaning ICE could detain and deport him at any time.

An ICE spokesman said immigration officials took Jamal into custody in September 2012 based on an active ICE arrest warrant. The agency then released him in November 2012 on the condition that he check in periodically.

However, under the Obama administration, ICE allowed Jamal to remain in the country and have a work permit.

"At that time, President Obama directed the Department of Homeland Security to exercise prosecutorial discretion on certain people who could legally be deported . . . and refrain from deporting them if they have more favorable factors than negative factors in their life," said Jeffrey Bennett, an immigration lawyer who filed an initial request to stay Jamal's deportation shortly after his arrest.

Jamal's supporters believe that he easily fits that description, even now: He has three children - ages 14, 12 and 7 - who are U.S. citizens and depend on him. All five of Jamal's siblings are living in the United States as citizens. His wife, Angela Zaynaub Chowdhury, last year donated a kidney, making Jamal the sole provider. He regularly volunteers in Lawrence public schools, where his children are enrolled, and recently put his name forth for a special election to fill an empty school board seat.

"Not only does Mr. Jamal teach his children to contribute to society, but he models this belief as well," according to an initial stay of removal request filed for Jamal.

The ICE spokesman said federal immigration judges make final decisions "based on the merits of each individual case."

It was on the strength of those merits that Jamal's family, friends and neighbors were hoping to persuade immigration officials to allow him to stay. Baker-Anderson said she was shocked when Jamal's wife called her to say her husband could be deported. They are neighbors, and their children participate in the same engineering and "Future Cities" programs at school, she said.

"I had no idea. I've never really asked anyone their status, their immigration status. I kind of think that's rude," Baker-Anderson said. "I talked to my friend who's the kids' gifted teacher and another friend . . . and we were like, 'We've got to do something for the family,' and that's how the petition started."

Baker-Anderson also organized a letter-writing campaign at her church Feb. 3 in the hopes that notarized testimonials about Jamal from the community would help support a stay of removal. They expected about 50 people but 500 showed up, she said.

"We've just had a huge response," Baker-Anderson said. "It's not like a liberal [vs.] non-liberal thing. This is just a bunch of people in this community that love this family. We have people from both sides of the aisle - people that voted for Trump, people that don't like him - but it's about the family."

Jamal's brother, Syed Hussain Jamal of Phoenix, told The Post that, as a U.S.-educated, liberal, secular Muslim who is a member of the Biharis, an Urdu-speaking ethnic minority, his brother could face persecution or death at the hands of Islamist extremists if he were to be sent back to Bangladesh.

Jamal was the only sibling who didn't have citizenship, even though they all came to the United States from Bangladesh for school, his sibling said.

"He was trying everything he could," Syed Hussain Jamal said. "Sometimes it's not as easy as people think to get a green card here. [My brother] had a job, an H1-B visa, then came back on a student visa, you know? And then he was trying to pursue a PhD program and that did not work out . . . and that's when he kind of went out of status."

Syed Hussain Jamal said the family was excited about the temporary stay of deportation but also concerned that his brother - and others - could have been deported even without a court date.

"We're just trying to show the rule of law is working. We just wanted a court date to fight our case. We have a valid case," Syed Hussain Jamal said. "Luckily, we have the community support. We have the resources to fight it. Not everybody else is going to have that, and that's the sad part."