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ICE targets noncitizens with no criminal records

Syed Ahmed Jamal of Lawrence, Kan., has three children, who are US citizens.Jamal family

WASHINGTON — On a recent Wednesday morning, Syed Ahmed Jamal was getting ready to take his daughter to school when he was stopped outside his home in Lawrence, Kan.

Officials from Immigration and Customs Enforcement were on his front lawn. Before Jamal, 55, could say goodbye to his wife and three children, the ICE agents detained him and led him away in handcuffs.

The arrest of a ‘‘beloved Lawrence family man, scientist, and community leader’’ came as a shock to Jamal’s friends and neighbors in the Kansas City area, where he has lived since arriving in the United States on a student visa from Bangladesh more than 30 years ago.


He would go on to also attain graduate degrees in molecular biosciences and pharmaceutical engineering, then settle in Lawrence to raise a family. Along the way, he switched from student visas to an H-1B visa for highly skilled workers, then back to a student visa when he enrolled in a doctoral program, his family said.

At the time of his arrest, Jamal was on a temporary work permit, teaching chemistry as an adjunct professor at Park University in Kansas City and conducting research at local hospitals.

An ICE official said the agency ‘‘continues to focus its enforcement resources on individuals who pose a threat to national security, public safety, and border security.’’

Asked whether Jamal had done anything that would have placed him in this category, the official said that, ‘‘as ICE Acting Director Thomas Homan has made clear, ICE does not exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement.’’

Jamal’s arrest is the latest example of ICE agents abruptly targeting noncitizens with no criminal record who have, in the past, been allowed to stay in the country because they were seen as contributing positively to society, according to Jeffrey Y. Bennett, an immigration lawyer who filed a request to stay Jamal’s deportation on Friday.


Shortly after he was elected in November 2016, Donald Trump vowed to immediately deport 2 to 3 million undocumented immigrants after his inauguration, saying the focus would be on those with criminal records.

During the first year of Trump’s presidency, however, many immigrants who had been allowed to stay found themselves swept up by ICE, such as in the case of a Michigan father, too old to qualify for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, who was deported to Mexico after three decades in the United States.

In January, ICE targeted 7-Eleven stores in a nationwide sweep for unauthorized workers and, later that month, detained a Polish doctor and green-card holder who had lived in the United States for nearly 40 years.

Jamal’s arrest seems to have come during that second wave, he said. In 2011, after Jamal’s visa status became invalid, he was given a ‘‘voluntary departure’’ order. The following year, an immigration judge ruled that Jamal was allowed to remain in the country, as long as he checked in with ICE regularly to maintain his work permit.

‘‘At that time, President Obama directed the Department of Homeland Security to exercise prosecutorial discretion on certain people who could legally be deported . . . and refrain from deporting them if they have more favorable factors than negative factors in their life,’’ Bennett said.

Jamal, he believed, easily fits that description: He has three US citizen children — ages 14, 12, and 7 — who depend on him. All five of Jamal’s siblings are living in the United States as citizens.


His wife, Angela Zaynaub Chowdhury, last year donated a kidney, making Jamal the sole provider. He regularly volunteers in Lawrence Public Schools, where his children are enrolled.