President Donald Trump’s State of the Union speech last week highlighted ordinary Americans doing extraordinary things. In the same speech, the president also called for an immigration system that protects the nuclear family. Yet it’s become clear this week that his administration will deport even the most extraordinary almost-Americans with nuclear families.
Three days after Trump’s speech, various news reports brought attention to the detention of Miguel Perez Jr., a veteran who served two tours in Afghanistan between 2002 and 2003. Perez enlisted in the army months after the September 11 attacks, but he had trouble re-entering back from a war that left him with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), CNN reported.
Although Perez believed he had citizenship, the father of two U.S.-born children actually only had a green card. He was convicted of selling cocaine to an undercover police officer in February 2010 and was sentenced to serve 15 years in the Illinois prison system. Because of the criminal conviction, he forfeited his green card status.
The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency began deportation proceedings on Perez halfway through his sentence and a judge ordered his removal in March 2017, according to the publication. Perez “was surprised to be sent to an ICE detention facility because he thought he already had citizenship.” Perez is currently on a hunger strike to bring attention to his case while his lawyer has appealed “to the full panel of the 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals, and will ask for a stay of deportation while the appeals process plays out,” CNN reported.
The ICE agency is now holding Perez at an ICE detention facility in Kenosha, Wisconsin. If deported back to Mexico — a place he hasn’t seen in 31 years — Perez would leave behind two U.S.-born children: a 21-year-old daughter and an 11-year-old son.
While Trump’s speech idealizes the all-American family, his federal immigration agency has failed to take phrases from his speech like “protecting the nuclear family” to heart. Instead, agents have relentlessly pursued people for deportation proceedings regardless of criminal record. Since January 2017 when Trump took office, detentions surged of people with no criminal records and people who have served out old criminal convictions. More immigrants who have become parents in the years following their criminal records are finding themselves in detention or deportation proceedings. It was also in the same State of the Union speech and throughout an error-ridden fact sheet released one day laterthis, that Trump made clear he preferred an immigration system focused on “merit” and “skill.”
Yet ICE recently detained a chemistry professor originally from Bangladesh who came to the country more than 30 years ago. ICE agents in Lawrence, Kansas detained Syed Ahmed Jamal in his front yard with two of his children watching. According to the agency, the arrest came as a result of a “voluntary departure” notice he received in 2011 from an immigration judge so his visa status had become “invalid,” the Kansas City Star reported. Jamal has been able to stay in the United States “on a supervised basis,” the publication reported, meaning he had to check in annually to retain his work permit.
The federal government is reportedly detaining Jamal — an adjunct professor who took post-graduate courses in molecular, cellular and developmental biology at the University of Kansas — at a Missouri jail, about 160 miles from his family.
Jamal came to the United States in 1987 on a student visa to attend the university, the Kansas City Star reported. After returning to Bangladesh, he got an H-1B visa to work at Children’s Mercy Hospital. He later pursue a doctorate degree and changed to a student visa.
Jamal is worried that his potential deportation could mean persecution or a death sentence if returned to Bangladesh. When he lived there, his family “was among the Biharis ethnic minority who supported Pakistan in warfare that led to the independence of Bangladesh,” the Kansas City Star reported. Jamal is also concerned that his outspoken nature could land him in “grave danger” if returned to a country he hasn’t seen in three decades.
If deported, Jamal leaves behind U.S.-born children in the first grade, seventh grade, and ninth grade. His wife is a “live organ donor,” according to a Change.org petition.
Perez and Jamal are two examples of immigrant fathers who have contributed to the United States, but are now at risk of deportation. To be clear, there are also ordinary immigrants whose merits and skills aren’t quantifiable through basic job descriptions. But this administration also shouldn’t be able to cast itself as an advocate for American families when it’s threatening to tear apart nuclear families.