Syed Ahmed Jamal was in his front yard in Lawrence, Kansas, preparing to take his daughter to school, when Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents put him in handcuffs and took him to jail. They wouldn’t even let his wife, Angela Zaynaub Chowdhury, hug him goodbye.
Jamal’s detention on Jan. 24 fits into a troubling pattern of the Trump administration’s aggressive pursuit of undocumented immigrants ― seeking out not only those with criminal records, but people who have lived in the country for decades without so much as a speeding ticket.
Jamal, 55, came to the U.S. in 1987 from Bangladesh on an F1 student visa and got undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Kansas. He obtained an H-1B work visa when he joined the staff at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri, but switched back to a student visa when he decided to finish his Ph.D.
He was then given a voluntary departure order in 2011. He didn’t leave the country in the time frame he was given, which would have made him eligible for deportation. But the Department of Homeland Security exercised its prosecutorial discretion in his case ― in accordance with guidance the Obama administration enacted that told DHS who to prioritize for deportation ― and Jamal obtained a temporary work permit. He’s since been working as a chemistry instructor at Park University in Kansas City, and as a researcher at local hospitals.
That guidance still exists, meaning ICE simply chose to ignore it when the agency detained him.
“Mr. Jamal is subject to an enforcement of a broken immigration system in which each Administration picks and chooses when it will enforce its laws against persons or not,” his attorney Jeffrey Bennett told HuffPost. “There is a legal basis to allow him to stay.”
Jamal, described as an active member of his local community, would be leaving behind his three children, all of whom are U.S. citizens. His wife, a live organ donor, is unable to provide for the family financially.
“My little brother cries every night, my sister can’t focus in school, and I cannot sleep at night,” Jamal’s son Taseen, 14, wrote in a letter in support of a stay on his father’s deportation. “My mother is in trauma, and because she is a live organ donor, she only has one kidney, so the stress is very dangerous. She could die if he is deported. If my father is deported, my siblings and I may never get to see him again.”
Jamal could face “grave danger” if he returns to Bangladesh, Taseen wrote, as a member of the Bihari ethnic minority.
Bennett said he filed a request to stay his client’s deportation based on Jamal’s deep roots in Lawrence, his children’s ties to the U.S. and his lack of criminal history. He’s also exploring whether Jamal would be eligible for a stay on his removal due to his fear of persecution back in Bangladesh.
The number of cases like Jamal’s has picked up nationwide, Bennett said: “We did see a wide aggressive stance on deportations shortly after [Trump] came into office and that tapered off sometime during the summer and now we have seen a vast uptick.”
From the time Donald Trump took office until the end of September, ICE removals that resulted from an arrest increased by 37 percent over the previous year, the Department of Homeland Security said ― even though the number of people apprehended attempting to cross the U.S. southern border dropped to a historical low in fiscal 2017.