At the start of 2018, Plymouth found itself faced with the opportunity to help one of our community members facing injustice. As in our past Plymouth helped in a way that our history and theology have demanded of us in these times when the least among us have needed our help.
Fellow Lawrencian, Syed Ahmed Jamal - who has lived in the U.S. for 30 years - needed help to avoid deportation. Jamal had been in the United States legally on student and work visas but they expired. He had been allowed to stay under supervisory orders as long as he reported regularly to Immigration. Syed holds graduate degrees in molecular biosciences and pharmaceutical engineering and is a married father of three and teaches as an adjunct professor at Park University in Kansas City. In January he was pulling out of his driveway to take his daughter to school and was arrested and placed in detention set for imminent deportation.
Plymouth Church, led by the efforts of Susan Anderson, Alan Anderson, Ceri Goulter, and Associate Pastor Eleanor McCormick, was instrumental in helping Syed to receive due process and avoid deportation. Plymouth also worked with The Islamic Center of Lawrence and other community members leading the fight.
On February 3, 2018 hundreds of people gathered at Plymouth to write letters to force a stay of Syed’s deportation. Plymouth members also attended a walk to Free Syed on February 8th and assisted in raising over $75,000 to help fund Syed’s legal defense. An online petition gathered 110,000 signatures in favor of allowing Syed to stay in Lawrence. News media including The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, MSNBC, The BBC, The Kansas City Star, The Lawrence Journal World and many more media companies reported on the support lent to the Jamal family by the Lawrence community and Plymouth Church.
On February 12th Syed was on a plane to Bangladesh to be deported when the Board of Immigration Appeals granted him a stay of removal. He was able to get off the plane when it stopped for fuel in Hawaii. He was flown back to Kansas City but was still in detention. During this time a bi-partisan private bill was introduced in the US Congress to grant a pathway to permanent residency for Syed and Angela Jamal.
On March 20th Plymouth members travelled to Kansas City to support Syed in a hearing that would decide if he was to remain in custody while his court case continued before the Board of Immigration Affairs. The court room was packed to overflowing and they had to open an additional room where a video feed of the proceedings was shown. Judge Ketchmark ruled that Syed should be released pending his hearing.
On August 9th, 2018, the Board of Immigration Appeals granted Syed Jamal the opportunity to present his deportation case to an Immigration Judge. One of the reasons the board listed for granting a new hearing was the advocacy of the community on behalf of Syed. The new hearing date is set for April 27, 2022. Plymouth helped make a difference. This church, its members, its friends, its allies in the Lawrence community, with our combined sweat, tears, and love have once again placed Plymouth on the right side of history.
Susan Baker Anderson, Director of Christian Education, Plymouth Congregational Church UCC