The Park University professor and chemist who gained international attention for his deportation case earlier this year got the opportunity to tell his side of the story at the university last week.
Park hosted Syed Jamal as part of its “year of engagement” lecture series on Tuesday, Nov. 13 at the Graham Tyler Memorial Chapel. The event was also broadcast live over the internet and covered by several Kansas City media outlets. Members of the audience were permitted to submit questions for Jamal to address.
Park University political science professor Dr. Jack MacLennan moderated the event. MacLennan, who immigrated to the U.S. from Canada, said he could connect to Jamal’s story on a personal level through his own struggles with the complex U.S. immigration system.
“The process can be difficult to understand and holds the future of so many immigrants in hand,” MacLennan said.
Jamal, 55, an immigrant from Bangladesh who has lived in the United States for about 30 years, was arrested by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents at his home in Lawrence, Kan. in late January.
“I had been watching the news the night before about increased detentions,” Jamal said. “I talked to my wife about it but I didn’t know that the next morning it would be me.”
He was in custody at several facilities — including the Platte County Detention Center — and once was on a plane bound for Bangladesh when a court blocked his immediate deportation in Hawaii. After public outcry and intervention by several lawmakers and attorneys on his behalf, he was released in March after 55 days of detention.
When asked if he was surprised by the attention his case garnered, he said “a little bit.”
In August, the Board of Immigration Appeals re-opened his case for a full review by a Kansas City immigration judge. While the date has not yet been set, it is expected to be early next year.
Jamal first entered the U.S. in 1987 on a student visa to earn his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Kansas. He stayed on a specialized visa for highly-skilled workers and has done research work for University of Kansas, Children’s Mercy, Rockhurst University and other entities.
ICE officials say Jamal twice overstayed his visa and in 2011 was ordered to leave the country.
Jamal said the situation was not so black and white. In the mid-2000s, grant funding for his research work dried up and the project he was working on ended. Unbeknownst to him and his attorney, his employer terminated his visa. While he was able to obtain another visa through a new research job, the gap caused questions.
Additionally, during the recession starting in 2008, he completed his PhD and considered finding a job in Canada. His agreement to leave the country was part of a job offer in Canada, he said, but he turned it down because his family had grown roots in the Lawrence area.
“I didn’t go — that was a big mistake,” Jamal said. “We should have loaded the car and gone. I could be happy anywhere but the children were different. They’re little and they had friends and school. They didn’t want to move.”
His history of changing jobs frequently due to the grant-funded nature of his work has made applying for permanent residency difficult. Jamal had most recently been issued the temporary work permit he presented to Park University. He started teaching advanced inorganic chemistry at Park University at the beginning of the spring term and has returned to that position since his release.
While he acknowledges mistakes were made, he said he had never given up on the system. However, there is room for improvement.
“We can move capital so easily but we don’t have the safeguards to protect people,” Jamal said, noting that the nation should work to find a middle ground on immigration policy .
Park University is known for schooling international students, and Jamal said his experience shouldn’t frighten off immigrants who wish to stay in the U.S. after graduation.
“I slipped through the cracks so I can’t take that personally,” Jamal said. “Just make sure you follow all the immigration rules and have the skill base that is in demand.”