Editor’s Note: Eleanor B. McCormick is Associate Pastor at Plymouth Congregational Church, United Church of Christ (UCC) in Lawrence, Kansas. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author
Syed A. Jamal was arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents on January 24, outside his Lawrence home, in front of his children as he prepared to take them to school. He had no chance to hug them goodbye.
My community cried out in alarm.
Syed has lived and worked in the United States for more than 30 years, since coming here from Bangladesh on an international student visa. Our community knows him. In the faces of Syed’s three young children – all American citizens – we have seen the actual human cost of our current immigration policies.
Their father is being held now, far away from his family, in a detention center in Missouri, and faces deportation.
Syed Jamal must be allowed to stay.
Let me tell you about our neighbor. Here in Lawrence, where he has lived as a friend and as an upstanding member of our community, Syed’s quiet compassion, his encouragement and his tireless dedication are well known.
The truth is, the country needs more neighbors like Syed – always willing to go out of his way for others, regularly helping elderly friends and neighbors do their weekly errands and grocery shopping (he goes the extra mile, carrying groceries up to apartments and checking on their medications).
He has contributed to education in our small community, right here in the center of America, and not only the education of his own family but that of the next generation of scientists – teaching, mentoring, inspiring scores of students at both Park University, where he is an adjunct chemistry professor, and earlier at the University of Kansas.
But there is more: There is Syed participating in community education in diabetes and blood pressure prevention, and Syed working on life-saving research at Children’s Mercy Hospital in biochemical genetics and oncology earlier in his career.
There is Syed, the lifelong learner, who is raising three children in this same way. There is the Syed who brings his children to the public library every single Sunday afternoon and tirelessly supports our public school system. He even recently ran to fill a vacant school board seat.
I know his children, and they are full of laughter and joy. Naheen has a sparkle in her eye that is now clouded by her grief. Taseen, the eldest at 14, had a childlike curiosity for the world. But he has stepped up to be the man of his household, and the weight of this mantle of responsibility is palpable.
Fareed wants to be a professional football player when he grows up, but his play has been interrupted by nightmares, and I hear his voice – “Where is baba?” – echo in my ears.
The church I serve was founded on the belief that slavery was “an abomination in the eyes of God.” Nearly two centuries ago, our congregation came to the aid and defense of African-American noncitizens. Now we want to aid our friend Syed Jamal – our noncitizen neighbor – and his family.
Members of our church youth group asked, “How do we help our friends reunite with their father?” Four moms asked, “How do we give voice to a father, educator, engaged community member we have come to respect and love?” Local librarians, public school teachers, concerned citizens and neighbors all asked, “How do we respond to the trauma experienced by the Jamal family?”
Because of these voices, our congregation – like the Islamic Community Center – opened its doors, and hundreds came to write letters in support of Syed and his family.
My denomination, the United Church of Christ, has a long history of defending the voiceless, the mistreated, the least of these. Inspired by scripture, we stand with immigrants and refugees against a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment. We refer to the pronouncement issued at our General Synod in 1981, which called for refugees and immigrants to be given constitutional and labor rights; urged penalties against exploitation and supported legalizing the undocumented. We raise our voices today for that same clarion call to justice.
Our voices have joined those of tens of thousands from across the country in imploring the Department of Homeland Security for a stay of removal for Syed A. Jamal.
One year after President Donald Trump signed the cynically named Executive Order 13768, “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States,” which emphasizes the deportation of all “removable aliens” instead of focusing on those who pose a threat to public safety or national security, Syed was taken.
Over the same year, tens of thousands of children like Taseen, Naheen and Fareed Jamal have been terrorized and left behind. So many don’t have the same support, the chorus of strong voices, that has risen to defend Syed and his family. We will continue to pray, write, call and vote – keeping the faces of Syed’s children and their extreme and exceptional hardship in our minds.
Wherever you are reading this, I hope you will lift your voice in the effort to create a United States defined by whom it welcomes, not by whom it expels. If we don’t cry out now for Syed and his family, and for the hundreds of thousands of other victims of unjust, inhumane immigration enforcement – exactly when will we? Will our silence kill the conscience of our country and our spirit, too?