College chemistry teacher Syed Ahmed Jamal was in his front yard in Lawrence, Kansas, getting ready to take two of his three kids to school when he was handcuffed and taken into custody by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, but his family and community have started petitions, fundraising and a letter-writing campaign, and they aren't giving up hope that he will be granted a stay of deportation.
Jamal is being held in Morgan County, Missouri, awaiting deportation, according to his attorney, Jeffrey Y. Bennett. He and his family await a decision on the recent stay of removal request sent to ICE on February 2, Bennett said.
Since his arrest on January 24, Jamal's family has been asking for help from their community, reaching out to people who know him and anyone who can write a letter to ICE on his behalf, sign their Change.org petition or donate to a GoFundMe page.
"Syed is a devoted supporter of his children's schools, regularly volunteering in classrooms and on site councils and recently mounting a campaign for a vacated school board seat. Syed is viewed as a leader within his faith community at the Lawrence Islamic Center as well," reads the petition.
It's at over 33,576 signatures and the GoFundMe page has raised $24,925.
Susan Baker Anderson lives a few blocks from the Jamals. Her twin daughters are friends with Jamal's daughter and their older sons are friends.
"I was totally surprised. He's a sweet guy that comes in and does science experiments for the kids," said Anderson of finding out Jamal had been arrested.
Anderson and some friends started a letter-writing campaign in support of Jamal at Plymouth Congregational Church and the Islamic Community Center in Lawrence.
"We had 347 notarized letters on Saturday. About 50 more since," she said. "The kids were making buttons. 'Help Syed.' 'Save Syed.' 'We love Syed.'"
"My little brother cries every night, my sister can't focus in school, and I cannot sleep at night," wrote Syed's son, Taseen Jamal, in a letter to ICE posted on Change.org. "My mother is in trauma, and because she is a live organ donor, she only has one kidney, so the stress is very dangerous." His letter continues, "My dad could likely would face persecution or even death at the hands of radical Islamist extremist gangs back in Bangladesh due to his liberal and secular writings and postings on social media platforms and publications."
All three of the Jamal children were born in the United States and are citizens, Bennett said. Their mother, Jamal's wife, is not a US citizen and though she has not been detained, she is in the same situation as her husband, according to Bennett.
Jamal worked in the chemistry department in several local colleges and universities, including Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Missouri, where he was an adjunct faculty member from August 2013 through December 2015 and where he also earned a bachelor's degree in 1997, according to the university.
Before he was taken into custody, Jamal had begun teaching in January at Park University in Parkville, Missouri, as an adjunct instructor of chemistry, and taught the laboratory for advanced inorganic chemistry. He had been to the weekly class twice before his arrest.
"While we have only limited information about the complex issues that apply to Syed's case, we hope there are options that may allow this husband, father, valued community member, scientist and educator to remain in the United States. I am sending a letter of support to ask immigration officials to find a way to keep him here," said Park University President Greg Gunderson.
Jamal, 55, first came to the United States from Bangladesh in 1987, according to his brother, Syed Hussain Jamal.
ICE said Jamal entered the United States legally in July 1998, on a temporary nonimmigrant visa.
"After he overstayed that visa, a federal immigration judge allowed him voluntary departure until August 26, 2002. He abided the judge's order and departed for Bangladesh on July 24, 2002. Three months later, Jamal legally re-entered the United States on October 25, 2002, on a temporary nonimmigrant visa. He again overstayed his visa, and a federal immigration judge allowed him voluntary departure until October 26, 2011. However, Jamal violated the judge's order and failed to depart the United States, and the voluntary departure order instead became a final order of removal (deportation)."
According to ICE, Jamal was taken into custody by ICE in September 2012, and released on an order of supervision, and on May 21, 2013, the Board of Immigration Appeals dismissed Jamal's appeal of his removal order.
Since around 2012, Jamal's lawyer said, he was granted prosecutorial discretion by ICE and given an order of supervision with work authorization to lawfully stay in the United States despite the fact he has remained in the United States past his voluntary departure order date.
"He has over the years reported to ICE as requested," Bennett said.
The latest stay of removal request Jamal and Bennett sent to ICE is based on a request for a continued grant of prosecutorial discretion and order of supervision with work authorization, according to Bennett.
Taseen Jamal's letter ends with a plea from him and his siblings to keep their family together.
"We are the children of Syed Jamal, and we are requesting on behalf of our family for your kind help to get back our father. A home is not a home without a father. Taseen Jamal, 9th grader, Naheen Jamal, 7th grader & Fareed Jamal, 1st grader."