The sad case of Syed Jamal has exposed the deep flaws in American immigration policy.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested Jamal Jan. 24. The 55-year-old scientist and academic was getting ready to take his children to school when ICE agents grabbed him outside his Lawrence home and handcuffed him. That was the last time he saw his wife, Angela Zaynub Chowdhury, who is also from Bangladesh, and three children, all of whom are U.S. citizens.
On Monday, a judge ruled against Jamal’s appeal to remain in the U.S. to be with his family and he reportedly was facing imminent deportation from the El Paso, Texas, detention center where he is being held. Later in the day, an appeals board granted a stay in his case, but it is far from certain whether that will end the threat of deportation or simply delay it.
Jamal has been in the U.S. for 30 years. He came as a student in 1987 and earned undergraduate and advanced degrees at Rockhurst, University of Missouri at Kansas City and the University of Kansas. He and his wife made their home with their three children in Lawrence, and he worked as a chemistry professor at Kansas City Community College.
He had no run-ins with the law. His only crime was overstaying his work visa.
It would seem that ICE would have deportation candidates of significantly higher priority than Jamal. But new Trump administration policies emphasizing a more aggressive approach mean arrests of people like Jamal are becoming the norm.
The Washington Post reported that arrests by ICE jumped 40 percent during Trump’s first year in office. But instead of rounding up and removing the immigrant drug dealers, rapists and murderers that Trump often describes, ICE has mostly arrested people like Jamal, who are here illegally but have no criminal record. ICE made 37,734 “noncriminal” arrests in 2017, more than twice the number in the previous year.
Critics of the new approach argue that ICE is going after easy targets, like Jamal, who are hiding in plain sight.
ICE officials said the agency is simply enforcing the rule of law.
ICE official Matthew Albence told the Washington Post that the agency’s priority remains those who represent a threat to public safety or national security. The difference now is that agents are also enforcing judges’ deportation orders against all immigrants. “There’s no list where we rank ‘This is illegal alien number 1 all the way down to 2.3 million,’” Albence said.
The problem with ICE’s new approach is that it discourages immigrants from trying to work within the system. Jamal’s attorney said he never missed a check-in and tried to abide by very complicated immigration rules.
Jamal’s last chance to remain in the U.S. is a new motion, filed Monday, for a stay of removal. That stay was granted and the hope is it will buy enough time for Congress to pass immigration reform providing a path for Jamal and others to remain in the U.S. But that seems highly unlikely given the checkered history of immigration reform in Washington.
It’s hard to figure out who wins by having Jamal’s deported. What’s not hard to figure out is who loses — the three children who don’t know when they’ll see their father again.