A Bangladeshi chemistry professor, living in the United States, was detained for deportation by two Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials from his house in Lawrence, Kansas on January 24.
Syed Ahmed Jamal, who had barely stepped out of home to drop his daughter at school, was taken away in handcuffs before he could say goodbye to his other two children and wife.
He was taken to a detention centre where he will be held pending his deportation to Bangladesh.
The incident has shocked the local community in Kansas City, where Ahmed has lived for over 30 years.
His friends and locals have launched a signature campaign on the popular petition website Change.org to halt his deportation.
More than 18,000 people have signed the petition so far.
Ahmed’s brother, Syed Hussain Jamal, said the family has received “unbelievable support.” He spoke to his brother over the phone, and said Ahmed was under tremendous stress and trying not to lose hope.
Hussain told the Dhaka Tribune: “My brother is very well-respected and loved in the community because of his work.”
The organizer of the change.org petition, Marci Leuschen, has called Ahmed “a beloved Lawrence family man, scientist, and community leader.”
Another community member, Mary Lingwall, who left a comment on the petition, wrote: “I am shocked and saddened. Syed [Ahmed] helped my elderly mother for many years.
“He is a very devoted family man and a valuable part of our community. I wish I knew what other things we can do to help…This cannot happen.”
His children are aware of the danger their father is in and his eldest son, Taseen Jamal, has written a letter that has been included in the change.org petition.
“My little brother cries every night, my sister can’t focus in school, and I cannot sleep at night,” wrote Taseen.
“My father called us and he was crying like a little child because he was worried about [sic] what would happen to us if he got deported,” he added.
Ahmed’s three children, Taseen Jamal (ninth grader), Naheen Jamal (seventh grader), and Fareed Jamal (first grader) are all US citizens by birth.
According to his family members, Ahmed went to the US in 1987 to attend Kansas University on a student visa, and went on to attain graduate degrees in molecular biosciences and pharmaceutical engineering.
He then worked at the Children’s Mercy Hospital on an H1B visa for highly skilled workers, but later, he switched back to a student visa to enroll in a PhD course.
His lawyer, Jeffrey Y Bennett, told the Dhaka Tribune that Ahmed lost his visa status at some point in 2011, and an immigration judge put him on “voluntary departure” notice.
Ahmed continued to stay in the US under an Obama administration provision called “prosecutorial discretion” where he was given a temporary work permit; however, he had to report to immigration officials yearly.
At the time of his detention, Ahmed was on a temporary work permit and teaching chemistry as an adjunct professor at Park University in Kansas City. He was also conducting research at some local hospitals.
During his election campaign, President Donald Trump had vowed to immediately deport millions of undocumented immigrants, saying the focus would be on those with criminal records.
But in recent months, many undocumented immigrants without any criminal record have also been picked up for deportation.
Also, in the past, many countries refused to provide paperwork for their citizens being deported by the US – saying they had no records on them and hence could not take them back.
After Trump came to power, many countries, including Bangladesh, have begun issuing the documents to facilitate the deportation process.
“Ever since our embassy started issuing the documents, a large number of undocumented Bangladeshi immigrants have been deported,” said Ahmed’s brother.
Ahmed’s lawyer said that he has filed an application at the US Department of Homeland Security for a stay on the deportation but he is not very hopeful.
“Unfortunately, such requests are rarely approved. The same people who have detained him will be considering the appeal for a stay,” added Bennett.