KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A Kansas father fighting efforts by the U.S. to deport him to Bangladesh was returned Wednesday from Honolulu to a Missouri jail, but his ultimate fate is still completely up to federal immigration authorities and could take months to resolve, his attorney said.
Syed Ahmed Jamal, 55, was housed Wednesday in the Platte County jail, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) north of Kansas City, attorney Rekha Sharma-Crawford said, after immigration officials took him off a plane in Hawaii earlier this week when a federal immigration board granted a temporary stay to his deportation.
While immigration officials could allow Jamal to return to Lawrence under orders of supervision, they also could keep him in the Missouri jail, or they could send him to any other detention center, Sharma-Crawford said during a news conference outside the jail. She said supporters and his family were hoping he would be released while awaiting what could be a months-long appeal process before the Board of Immigration Appeals. She noted Jamal already was under a valid order of supervision when he was arrested, has job to return to, valid identification such as a Social Security number, and strong support from his family and many people in Lawrence.
“(Immigration and Customs Immigration) has the determination, the authority and the discretion to let him go home,” she said. “At this point, it makes little sense to keep him detained.”
Jamal was able to talk briefly with his family and attorney after he arrived at the jail and was happy but shocked by everything that had occurred since his arrest, although he didn’t know all the details, said his brother, Syed Hussein Jamal. The family was relieved that his brother was close enough to visit but are still hoping he will be allowed out of custody, Hussein Jamal said.
“We’re asking ICE to do the right thing, do the family thing, let the man out so he can at least be with his family and community,” Hussein Jamal said.
Ahmed Jamal’s oldest son, Taseen, said it was “surreal” to have his dad so close again.
“Just to know that ICE is basically playing God now, doing whatever they want, whenever they want, just to know we’re so close to him is a really good feeling,” he said.
His return came one day after Republican U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins, whose district includes Lawrence, introduced a bill that would provide for the “relief” of Jamal and his wife, whose legal name is Zaynaub Jahan Chowdhury. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, a Democrat from Missouri who has also taken up Jamal’s case, helped draft the bill and “fully supports” it, said spokeswoman Heather Frierson.
Jenkins’ spokesman Lee Modesitt said in a statement later Wednesday that Jenkins has supported reforming the immigration system, particularly for people with science and technology expertise, which likely could have avoided Jamal’s situation. She said the private bill she is proposing would “narrowly focus on this specific circumstance in her district while the broader discussion continues.”
Sharma-Crawford said the appeals process before the federal immigration board could take several months and the discussion on Jenkins’ private bill proposal would take even longer “so this is not going to get resolved out very quickly.” ICE has the determination, the authority and the discretion to let him go home.
Jamal, who has worked as an adjunct professor and researcher at Kansas City-area colleges, has been battling his deportation since ICE agents arrested him Jan. 24 at his family’s home.
Jamal entered the U.S. legally in 1987 to attend the University of Kansas but twice overstayed his visa. He was ordered deported in 2011 but had been allowed to stay in the U.S. and check in regularly with immigration authorities. Sharma-Crawford said Jamal has a work permit that is valid until October and that he was trying to work within what she calls a complicated immigration system.
His wife, who also is from Bangladesh, came to the U.S. in 2002, and there also was an order for her removal several years ago, Frierson said. The couple’s children are U.S. citizens.
Cases such as Jamal’s have been on the rise. Shortly after taking office last year, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that widened the categories of immigrants in the U.S. illegally who could face deportation. The number of arrests by ICE surged almost 40 percent from the time of Trump’s inauguration to the end of September, compared with the same time period the year before. ICE has also detained or deported people who had received reprieves from the agency during the Obama administration, which prioritized deporting violent, criminal immigrants.
Republican Rep. Kevin Yoder of Kansas generally supports having ICE make deporting violent criminals a priority while keeping immigrant families together, spokesman C.J. Grover said Wednesday in an email. He said Yoder was “disturbed” by Jamal’s case, which he said ran counter to those goals.
Associated Press writer Margaret Stafford contributed to this report.