Syed Jamal thanks Lawrence congregation for making difference in deportation case

photo by: Elvyn Jones

Syed Jamal stands at the pulpit of the Plymouth Congregational Church, 925 Vermont St., on Sunday, May 6, 2018. Jamal thanked the congregation for its support this winter after his arrest and detention by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. The congregation and community showed that positive results could be realized through individual and collective acts, he said.

After service Sunday at the Plymouth Congregational Church, Syed Jamal said he would heed the plea of Pastor Peter Luckey to buy baked goods for a church fundraiser.

Buying the baked goods to help fund a planned youth summer service trip would be a way to demonstrate that actions can produce positive results, and another way to express his gratitude to the congregation for rallying to his defense after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested him Jan. 24 at his Lawrence home.

The Bangladeshi-born Jamal, who teaches chemistry at an area college and is active with the Lawrence school district, spent 45 days in detention before a federal judge ordered his release March 20 from a Missouri jail, allowing him to rejoin his wife, Angela Zaynub Chowdhury, and three children.

Invited to address the congregation at the start of Sunday’s service, Jamal spoke from the pulpit of the good that can come from individual and collective action. The work of the congregation of taking his story to the media, organizing a letter-writing campaign to the Kansas congressional delegation, and supporting him and his family in the courtroom was instrumental in gaining his release.

“From that, we learned the lesson that actions do matter, and if we come together, wonderful things can happen,” he said. “You set an example for others and for my children by what you did, and for that, I say thank you.”

Alan Anderson, a Plymouth member and friend of Jamal, told the congregation taking principle action was what God asks of the faithful.

“He requires we do something,” he said. “This congregation did that. When the history is written on this episode, it will remember all your stories.”

Jamal’s immigration battle traces to a 2011 deportation order issued after he overstayed a visa, his attorney Rekha Sharma-Crawford told the Journal-World in February. Sharma-Crawford added that Jamal has a work permit that is valid until October 2018 and that he was trying to work within what she described as a “complicated and unfriendly” immigration system.

After the service, Jamal said he still faced the threat of deportation, and he and his family needed the continued support of the congregation and the Lawrence community. His case is now before the Board of Immigration Appeals. The BIA is an administrative appellate body within the U.S. Justice Department that Attorney General Jeff Sessions heads, and it is not part of the independent U.S. judicial branch.

An attorney, although not representing Jamal, Anderson said Jamal’s lawyers and government attorneys have filed briefs with the BIA and those are now under review. It’s an administrative process, but it’s unknown how long it will take or the process that will be used to resolve it, he said.

There is a backlog of about 700,000 BIA cases, and the list is growing as President Donald Trump and his administration pursue their anti-immigration policy, Anderson said. A decision could take years if Jamal’s case is considered in its proper place on that long waiting list; however, Sessions could pull Jamal’s case out and make a decision at any time, Anderson said.

Sessions also has put an end to privileges immigrants have enjoyed before the BIA in the past and limited the ability of immigration judges to intervene on behalf of immigrants, Anderson said.

“It seems like the administrative process is being co-opted for purposes other than what’s good for the country,” he said.

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the number of Syed Jamal’s children. He and wife Angela Zaynub Chowdhury have three children.