Lawrence scientist facing deportation wins opportunity to present case to immigration judge
photo by: Nick Krug
After a seven-month ordeal of facing imminent deportation and separation from his family, a Lawrence scientist and father of three has finally won the opportunity to present his case to an immigration judge.
“We are all mightily relieved,” Syed Jamal said Tuesday at a news conference at his attorney’s office in Kansas City, Mo.
Jamal, originally from Bangladesh, was arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents on Jan. 24. In mid-February he was put on a plane back to Bangladesh, but during the plane’s stop in Hawaii he was taken to a detention center there and was eventually flown back to the mainland U.S. as a battle raged over his right to remain in a country he had called home for more than 30 years. In March, Jamal, 55, was freed from ICE custody and allowed to return to his wife and children in Lawrence pending resolution of his case with the Board of Immigration Appeals.
On Aug. 9, that board, finding that “reopening is warranted,” agreed that he should be allowed to present his case to a judge in Kansas City, Mo., which has rendered the threat of deportation no longer imminent, according to his attorney, Rekha Sharma-Crawford.
“This is certainly a wonderful day for Mr. Jamal, his wife and their three children,” Sharma-Crawford said in a news release posted on her firm’s website Tuesday, the day after Jamal received word of the decision. “Since the Board of Immigration Appeals remanded the case for a full hearing, Mr. Jamal and his family will now have the opportunity to ask an Immigration Judge to review multiple forms of relief allowed under the law; it is also a good day for the rule of law.”
Sharma-Crawford said the next step in the legal process is that the Kansas City Immigration Court will get Jamal’s case file and will schedule a hearing to determine what kind of relief Jamal is seeking. The options, she explained, are “cancellation of removal” and seeking asylum, both of which would ultimately be a path toward citizenship.
Cancellation of removal requires that the person has been in the country at least 10 years, is of “good moral character” with no disqualifying convictions and has a child who would suffer “exceptional and extremely unusual hardship” if the person is deported.
Asylum is a process that applies to refugees from a foreign country who can demonstrate they have been persecuted or fear they will be persecuted on account of race, religion, nationality or other qualifying factors.
Sharma-Crawford did not specify what form of relief Jamal would seek, but in either case a trial will ultimately be scheduled, and his family and community members will be able “to tell a judge what Jamal means to them and why he should not be deported from the United States.”
Sharma-Crawford and Alan Anderson, a shareholder in the Polsinelli law firm, which is also helping Jamal, noted that a private bill is still pending in Congress that would also, if passed, be a form of permanent relief for Jamal.
At the news conference, Jamal thanked everybody who had helped him remain in the country — including Missouri politicians U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill and Rep. Emanuel Cleaver by name — and reiterated his confidence in the courts.
“I previously have said I have full faith in the judicial system of this country,” Jamal said. “I have been proven right.”
McCaskill and Cleaver have, with Kansas Rep. Lynn Jenkins, spearheaded congressional efforts on Jamal’s behalf.
When asked Tuesday if his confidence ever faltered, Jamal said he had some difficult moments, particularly on the plane to Hawaii, but that in general he did not worry much. That was not true of his wife, he noted: “Mothers worry more than fathers,” he said, at which point his attorney chimed in, “We did the worrying for him.”
As for the immediate future, Jamal said that he would continue to teach at community colleges in the area as his case went forward. His children –all U.S. citizens — “will want to finish high school in Lawrence,” he said. And he mentioned the possibility of writing a book about his immigration experience.
Jamal’s family did not participate in the news conference, but Anderson said in the news release that “the family could not be happier. Syed is part of our community’s fabric and we are all thrilled with the Board’s decision.”
Jamal’s case attracted widespread attention after he was arrested seven months ago at his Lawrence home in front of his children. He has no criminal record in Douglas County. Hundreds of supporters have rallied to his defense, including Rep. Jenkins, whose district includes Lawrence. Jenkins earlier this year called the effort to deport Jamal “offensive to our common sense and a fiscally reckless use of taxpayer dollars.”
Jenkins noted that Jamal had been a productive member of society. “Syed is the type of immigrant our nation always has and should continue to welcome,” Jenkins said, “exactly the type of immigrant this ‘nation of immigrants’ was built by.”
On the same day that Jamal was arrested, another immigrant from Bangladesh living in Lawrence also was arrested by ICE. That immigrant, Raju Ahmed, 40, had also been living in the United States for many years and had a wife and children here. He owned Tobacco Bazaar at 14 E. Eighth St. in Lawrence.
Unlike Jamal, however, Ahmed had a criminal record. In 2005, he was convicted of two felonies in Douglas County: attempted aggravated burglary and attempted aggravated sexual assault. Despite the convictions and being ordered to register as a sex offender, he was allowed to stay in the country for more than a decade afterward, becoming the owner of a Lawrence business and fathering two daughters in that time.
After his arrest, Ahmed was being held in the Versailles, Mo., detention facility, his wife said at the time. According to information Tuesday from the detainee locator on ICE’s website, there is a Raju Ahmed from Bangladesh being held at a processing center in Folkston, Ga., but the Journal-World could not confirm Tuesday whether that is the same Raju Ahmed who was arrested in Lawrence.