Release Syed Ahmed Jamal Immediately

On 24 January 2018, Syed Ahmed Jamal, an immigrant to the United States from Bangladesh, was arrested from his front yard while trying to take his daughter to school. This action was shameful, and I want to add my voice to those calling for his immediate release. My open letter follows.

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4 February 2018



To Whom It May Concern:

It was with great distress and consternation that I read about the arrest of Syed Ahmed Jamal from his Lawrence, Kansas front yard on 24 January 2018. I write this letter to lend my support to his cause and add my voice to those requesting his immediate release.

So often the current discussion on immigration centers around whether the immigrants are worthy of staying in the country—how long have they lived in the United States? have they achieved an education? what are they adding to the nation?

While this is a fraudulent and damaging conversation to have (immigrants’ value simply as human beings is the more important question), Jamal scores highly in each of these questions. He has lived in the country for decades, and all his children and siblings are citizens. He has a PhD in a STEM field. And he is an educator, seeking to improve the next generation.

Syed Ahmed Jamal is EXACTLY the sort of person we want in the United States, and arresting him, presumably for deportation, hurts this nation.

Moreover, as a professional historian, I am incredibly distressed to see attitudes also evident in some dark times in our nation’s history.

The first anti-immigration law—the Chinese Exclusion Act—was passed in 1882, intended to discriminate against hard-working immigrants who were abused for their labor (largely building the Transcontinental Railroad) and then cast off.

After that law, the nation steadily drifted toward ever greater discrimination against and demonization of immigrants from all nations. The most shameful incidents occurred during World War II. During that conflict, acting upon President Franklin Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, over 100,000 Japanese-Americans (most of them U.S. citizens) were interned, violating their constitutional rights. And thousands of Jewish refugees from the Holocaust were turned away from U.S. shores. Many later died in the Holocaust.

Jamal’s treatment is not only wrong, but it is also bad for this country and our ideals of freedom, democracy, and the American Dream. Please do the right thing and return Syed Ahmed Jamal to his family immediately.


Neil Oatsvall, PhD