Immigration issues hit close to home

Jon Hokenson, Reporter

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Assistant Professor of Political Science Jack MacLennan, Ph. D., moderating the discussion with adjunct professor Syed Jamal. PHOTO/ Jon Hokenson

Adjunct professor Syed Jamal was back at Park in November to discuss his encounter with immigration agents earlier this year. Originally from Bangladesh, he remains in the country on a temporary stay of deportation while a court reviews the revocation of his visa.
He came to the university to answer questions and speak about some of the details involving the events from January after over-staying his visa. The event filled the Graham Tyler Memorial Chapel, with several local news teams in the upstairs balcony.
Jamal says he first came to the United States as a student attending the University of Kansas in the fall of 1987.
Jamal recalled the student visa process at the time only took a few months.
“It was much easier and simpler then,” he said. Jamal spent more than a decade in school, which occasionally led to heated questions about why his degrees were taking so long.
“I had a lot of academic interests and social interests so I had a lot of explaining to do,” he said.
“After my first job at Children’s Mercy in 2002, that’s when I decided to apply for the visa, as opposed to applying for permanent residence. It was considered okay at that time,” he said.
Jamal said it was common, then, to apply for two visas over the course of six years that would lead to eligibility to transition to permanent status. He completed some quick mental calculations while explaining this process, concluding his 2002 visa was renewed in 2005 and was supposed to last until 2008. But it didn’t.
“The great recession was coming in 2008,” he said. “There were so many changes going around through hospitals and companies. More and more were exclusively becoming grant funded. You had to pretty much pay for your own lightbulbs.”
It was during this time that Jamal’s research position was terminated and his employer notified immigration. The turnaround on his job hunt was no less turbulent.
“I went to maybe 15, 20 interviews in a few months,” said Jamal. Not only did the recession make getting a new job hard, but employers’ expectations had changed. Jamal said he was asked whether he required sponsorship in ways he hadn’t before. When he answered yes, he was shown the door.
Assistant Professor of Political Science Jack MacLennan, Ph. D., moderated the discussion with Jamal. He weighed in on how policy shifts and changes can have disastrous effects when the logistics of life, such as an economic recession, aren’t taken into account during their implementation.
“The measure of truly effective public policy,” said MacLennan, “be it related to immigration, infrastructure, national defense or any other matter, is not only the elegance with which it can be summarized. Policies that sound logical, coherent or even commonsensical in the course of a discussion can have effects that defy our stated goal. The immigration debate is no different.”
Jamal did find a graduate program to work for in 2007, but like many programs, it didn’t start until fall of that year. This, combined with changes in his research area and the ways employers evaluated applications, led to a period of time between jobs longer than the allotted time he had to find a new job.
“I was told that it would be fall of 2007 when [I] could start,” said Jamal. “I was fully funded, everything was fine. But the problem is, I’ve lost a job in January 2006. If that had happened in fall of 2006 I would be okay. But I was told that it was too late.” Jamal refers to this gap as his “original sin.”
He applied for a status change to an F1 visa in February 2008 which was approved. Then in May of that year, he said he received an envelope with red letters on it: a request for evidence. His application had been reopened for review. After sending in his evidence from his job search, he received word the application had been revoked due to the gap in his employment.
“And that decision cannot be appealed,” said Jamal. He still does not know why the case was reopened or why his evidence was insufficient to justify his status change and likely never will.
“Once you have a history like that it becomes extremely challenging to get anything approved,” Jamal said. “There are only two waivers; a physician waiver and a nursing waiver. No teaching waiver.”
In 2010, after appearing before a judge, Jamal’s request was denied again. This time, in order to leave the courthouse, he was expected to sign his intent to voluntarily depart the country. However, if he left the country, all other attempts to rectify the situation would grind to a halt.
“That original infraction rippled down through everything else he did,” said McLennan. “Because once USCIS [United States Citizenship and Immigration Services] deems you to have overstayed your visa or broken one of its conditions, that informs their interpretation of everything else.”
That’s how an employment gap from 2006 led to Jamal’s arrest on his front lawn by ICE agents in 2018.
For his part, Jamal seems bemused about the severity and dramatics of the situation. He says he dislikes the stress the situation has placed on his family but remains confident in the system’s ability to work things out.
“For most people who have gone to a country that has a big, complicated immigration processes, there’s an understanding of how easy it can be to fall from one status to another,” said McLennan. “I think that awareness is what leads Professor Jamal to be very pragmatic. It’s not a matter of getting angry. The process has effects on people, and the conversation should be about how to alter that if necessary, rather than voicing blame or anger.”
Jamal said his next court appearance is scheduled before the end of the year but could be delayed until April. So he won’t be teaching back at Park this year, but with a confident smile, he proposed, “maybe next semester or something.”

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