This story was updated at 8:45 p.m. with new information about the case and comments from Jamal's attorneys.
In a wild day that saw immigration authorities put him on a plane headed for Hawaii, an immigration appeals board halted the deportation of Lawrence resident Syed Jamal, whose case has become an international cause celebre.
The move came after an immigration judge on Monday cleared the way for Jamal’s deportation after denying motions to reopen Jamal’s case and dissolving a stay that he granted last week.
Jamal’s lawyers immediately filed an appeal with the Board of Immigration Appeals in Virginia, which granted Jamal a new stay of removal. By then, Jamal was in the air after Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) removed him from a deportation staging facility in El Paso, Texas, and put him on a plane.
“They put him on the plane, they told it to take off, before we had gotten the judge’s decision,” Michael Sharma-Crawford, one of Jamal’s attorneys, told KCUR in Kansas City.
The stay by the Board of Immigration Appeals was valid only because the plane had to land in Hawaii for refueling. If that had not occurred, Jamal’s case in immigration court would have effectively ended.
“You want to fight, fight fairly. The government is not fighting fairly,” said Syed Hussain Jamal, Syed Jamal’s brother and a U.S. citizen.
Jamal’s lawyers said they only received word of the immigration judge’s order dissolving the stay at about 11:45 a.m. The stay from the appeals board now bars ICE from removing Jamal from the United States until it can rule on the merits of his case.
“It is our hope that DHS [the Department of Homeland Security] will not leave him in Honolulu,” attorney Rekha Sharma-Crawford told reporters late in the afternoon. “We are hoping that DHS will return him back to Kansas City, back to his community, back to his family, to wait out now the process as it goes forward at the Board of Immigration Appeals.”
Sharma-Crawford said the attorneys spent the bulk of the day not knowing where Jamal was.
“His wife wants to know where her husband is, the kids want to know where Dad is, I mean, it’s horrifying," she said.
Jamal, 55, a Bangladeshi chemistry instructor who came to the United States 31 years ago on a student visa, is married and the father of three U.S.-born children. He has been living for years under a deportation order but with a valid work permit and under supervision by the Department of Homeland Security. But Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials abruptly detained him in front of his home on the morning of Jan. 24 as he was preparing to drive his children to school.
Jamal’s case has sparked an outpouring of support, including a letter-writing campaign that has drawn thousands of signatures, and has made national and international headlines. He has no criminal record and was actively involved in community activities such as volunteering in Lawrence public schools.
Last week, Baker issued a temporary stay of removal while considering Jamal’s argument that an earlier order to deport him was legally flawed and invalid.
After visiting Jamal in detention in El Paso, Texas, over the weekend, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, a Kansas City Democrat, is drafting legislation aimed at reuniting Jamal with his family under some form of extended residency. Republican Rep. Lynn Jenkins, who represents Jamal's district, has joined Cleaver in his efforts.
“One of the good pieces of news right now is we're getting phone calls from other members of Congress, from both sides of the aisle, who are interested in being a part of the legislation or expressing their support in some other way,” Cleaver says.
Cleaver plans to introduce the private bill before the House on Tuesday. Though it would only affect Jamal's case, Cleaver says he hopes the case will help shed light on a “broken” immigration system.
“This is a snapshot of how archaic our system is in this country,” he says. “This is the right man and hopefully, this is the right time."
Frank Morris is a national NPR correspondent and senior editor at KCUR 89.3. You can reach him on Twitter @FrankNewsman.
KCUR reporter Andrea Tudhope contributed to this report. Follow her on Twitter @_tudhope.