Lawrence father Syed Jamal freed from jail as immigration case continues

photo by: Nick Krug

Lawrence resident Syed Jamal hugs his children after he was released from the Platte County Jail, Tuesday, March 20, 2018, in Platte City, Mo.

Syed Jamal had not hugged his children since Jan. 24, when Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents arrested the 55-year-old scientist outside his Lawrence home.

On that morning, Jamal didn’t have the chance to say goodbye to his wife and three kids as ICE officers put him in handcuffs and hauled him off to a Missouri detention center.

All that came to an end, at least for the time being, on Tuesday afternoon, when Jamal’s 7-year-old son rushed into his arms for a long-awaited hug outside the Platte County Jail. The moment came just hours after a federal judge ruled to release the Bangladeshi-born father back to his family while the Board of Immigration Appeals reviews his deportation case.

“It’s a good day,” Angela Zaynub Chowdhury, Jamal’s wife, told reporters Tuesday. “I can touch him. I can hug him.”

photo by: Nick Krug

Lawrence resident Syed Jamal exits the Platte County Jail, Tuesday, March 20, 2018, in Platte City, Mo., after a judge ordered his release at a hearing earlier in the day.

The ruling, by federal judge Roseann Ketchmark, applies to a habeas corpus petition filed by Jamal’s legal team challenging his detention by ICE officials. It doesn’t affect Jamal’s precarious deportation status, however, which is still under review.

Jamal’s attorney, Rekha Sharma-Crawford, argued in court Tuesday morning that Jamal has no criminal record and poses no threat to national security. With three kids in Lawrence, Jamal wasn’t a flight risk, Sharma-Crawford argued.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeff Ray didn’t challenge that argument Tuesday, though Ketchmark did accept Ray’s argument that Jamal’s removal from the country was likely in the foreseeable future. The federal government had previously argued that Ketchmark did not have the jurisdiction to decide whether Jamal should be released from jail.

More than 100 supporters, many of them carpooling from Lawrence for the occasion, attended Jamal’s hearing Tuesday. Friends and family packed the courtroom, with other supporters watching a video feed of the hearing from a nearby overflow room.

Just hours later, Jamal walked freely through the doors of the Platte County Jail in tiny Platte City, Mo., a mesh bag filled with books in tow. His family had sent him the reading materials during his nearly two months in jail, the research scientist and college instructor told reporters that afternoon.

Reporters were the first to greet Jamal upon his release, which occurred so suddenly that his family had not even arrived at the jail yet.

“In prison you have hardly any individuality or identity, pretty much. So, you feel like you are your own person again,” Jamal told reporters outside the detention center. “That freedom feels so much better.”

Sharma-Crawford, while noting Tuesday’s victory, also said Jamal’s legal battle was far from over. The next step in the process is a briefing next month at the Board of Immigration Appeals.

Before his arrest in January, Jamal had lived in the U.S. peacefully for more than 30 years. He has no criminal record in Douglas County, where he has long resided with his wife and three children.

Though access to newspapers and other news media had been limited throughout his jail stay, Jamal said he had been able to keep up somewhat with this month’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Despite being almost entirely “disconnected” from the outside world, Jamal said, word had still traveled back to him in jail that his Jayhawks would play Clemson later this week.

Jamal said he’ll “definitely” be rooting for Kansas, the team of his adopted hometown.

Rep. Lynn Jenkins, whose district includes Lawrence, issued a statement Tuesday following the federal hearing. Jenkins had previously introduced a bill in Congress seeking to aid Jamal and his wife.

“The fact that our government would prioritize resources to attempt to deport Syed is offensive to our common sense and a fiscally reckless use of taxpayer dollars,” Jenkins said, noting that Jamal had worked, paid taxes and raised a family in the United States. “Syed is the type of immigrant our nation always has and should continue to welcome, exactly the type of immigrant this ‘nation of immigrants’ was built by.”