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Bullied by a government

Sunday, January 21, 2018

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's website includes this line:

"... promotes public trust and confidence in ICE by ensuring organizational integrity is maintained through a multi-layered approach utilizing security, inspections and investigations."

Right now, ICE is carrying out one of the most brazen episodes ever of government bullying in the case of Youngstown businessman Amer “Al” Adi Othman.

As of Saturday, Adi is in prison on a hunger strike after being taken into custody for his flawed U.S. citizenship status. He had volunteered two weeks ago to leave the country he’s called home for four-plus decades. But ICE – in an underhanded move ripe for a Jason Bourne film and not an agency of leadership – duped him into a status hearing only to jail him like a felon.

There are many takeaways from this tragic episode of government:

The federal government closed down four days too late to spare Adi and this community this indecency. In hindsight, the haste in which ICE moved on Tuesday can cause you to think they acted quickly because of the looming shutdown.

Their opening words to him of “Let’s not beat around the bush. We’re taking you into custody” screams of an office in a hurry to do something to a guy who was willing to leave, has never committed a crime and was wearing an ankle monitor.

What happened to Adi happened with a veteran attorney, a Democrat congressman and a county Republican leader at his side.

I am not sure I can even muster that support, and I too am felony-free. Yet Adi had it, and he’s in a private prison.

What does this convey about the humanity displayed for the 99.8 percent of the others who cannot muster this entourage?

This is our America?

This is not a President Trump-only action. Such federal actions occurred under Obama as well.

There are 8,000 cases awaiting hearings at the Cleveland courthouse; 650,000 across America. Adi is not one of those.

What has changed under Trump is his administration’s scrapping of processes that prioritized apprehending serious criminals over noncriminals.

That’s where Adi attorney David Leopold’s anti-Trump cries have merit.

“It’s surreptitious trickery. ... It’s a policy of racism. [This] is a new low,” he said Tuesday, attributing this action to the white nationalists whom Trump has embraced and employed.

“They’re quietly turning the president’s rhetoric into methodical, ruthless, racist policy.”

To be true to the 8,000 cases pending in Cleveland, hundreds of them are not from the new federal standard we’ve apparently established of “sthole” countries.

Italy, Poland, Canada, Ireland, Yugoslavia and England are among the countries of origin, and I’m guessing Trump supposes them to be superior places.

There is no Norwegian. But there is a Swede.

I feel, too, that a bully responded to being bullied.

Adi’s group fought this quietly.

I’m a fan of his downtown store’s hummus and was dining there in December as word of this was circling.

He’s always gregarious about life – whether it’s business, downtown, America, Arab culture, etc.

But on this topic, he was mum.

You could sense he did not want to poke the hive. So I let it go.

But when he had to surrender two weeks ago, they went out guns ablazing.

It drew U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan and also county Republican leader Tracey Winbush to the front lines. They were there Tuesday, and left stunned and speechless. How do those two opposites unite?

Because Adi is a great American, even though he’s not an American citizen.

There are sure to be steps in his 40-plus years here that you could say he did wrong in this process.

But there’s so much you can see that he did right.

He employed people; developed businesses; serves customers that many stores would dismiss; created a downtown cultural melting pot in the process.

(True side story: Two professional ladies stopped me on a downtown corner last summer asking for a dining suggestion. I guess I fit the profile of a guy safe to ask about food. I asked if they liked Middle-Eastern and warned them to trust me. I pointed to Downtown Circle and said that some shoppers there might cause you some pause, but they’re fine people who bother no one; go inside and ask the staff for the back dining room and enjoy some great dining. They did. I saw them an hour later, leaving fulfilled.)

There are people in business for business. But there are some who aim to also serve a greater good. That’s Adi.

It’s a shame one government office could not share the same decency.

Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes emails about life and our newspaper. Email him at tfranko@vindy.com. Tweet him, too, at @tfranko.