By TIM RYAN
U.S. representative, D-13th
I was with Amer “Al” Adi Othman at his Immigration and Customs Enforcement meeting Tuesday. I’d hoped to share with ICE what is already clear to Youngstowners: Amer is an American who contributes immensely to his city and his country. Instead, I witnessed firsthand the destructive consequences of President Donald Trump’s vindictive and arbitrary immigration policies.
Growing up in the Mahoning Valley is special in large part because of the history of our community. I remember as a young boy attending family functions where my Italian immigrant relatives spoke in broken English. Holidays were filled with stories about the difficult conditions they left behind before they immigrated to America. Through those stories, I learned the power and magic of what America means to immigrants.
As I moved into a life of public service, I pledged to myself to always protect and honor the dignity of those seeking a better life in this country.
This is why I have taken such an interest in the case of Amer. When we arrived in Cleveland at ICE headquarters, our friend Amer, his wife and his attorney went into an office with their caseworker. We all thought they would be discussing a future hearing to review his case. Just minutes later, while I was still waiting in the reception room with 40 parents and children, his wife came out in tears. They had immediately taken her husband into custody and were moving forward with deportation.
His attorney and I were speechless.
This abrupt bait and switch was the most outrageous and inhumane thing I have ever seen in my career. He wouldn’t even have a chance to hug his daughters goodbye. This man – with an American wife, four American daughters, and a business in downtown Youngstown – pays taxes, creates jobs in downtown Youngstown, and passes out 300 turkeys to the poorest people in our community every Thanksgiving.
But after 30 years living in this country, it took only minutes to have the rug pulled out from under him.
He was treated like a violent criminal.
The shameful way Amer was treated is just a snapshot of what is wrong with the our immigration system. Amer showed up at ICE with a member of the U.S. Congress, a high-powered attorney, and a cadre of reporters.
How many others are going through the same situation without a member of Congress at their meeting, without a high-powered attorney to represent them, without the limelight of the press. How are they treated?
ICE has an important job to do, and there are surely many good men and women working there to keep our nation safe. But for every moment spent on good people like Amer, resources are directed away from catching and deporting violent criminals. But President Trump’s immigration policy treats these real, hardened criminals the same way as our friend Amer. That is morally wrong, a waste of limited tax dollars, and — in the case of Amer — a very real economic hit to downtown Youngstown. Amer was one of the first pioneers to decide to put their business in downtown Youngstown, helping rehabilitate and reinvigorate our city. His business has employed scores of people over the years.
It is important to remember that Amer was already wearing an ankle bracelet. If they wanted him to leave, he would have gotten a plane ticket and left. When we showed up for the meeting, they could’ve said “Things didn’t work out, we’re sorry, you have to leave.”
He was planning to do just that two weeks ago. He gave ICE his itinerary, flight numbers and passport.
Instead, they took him into custody. This is what happens when the president spends his time preoccupied with people living in so-called “shithole countries.” I hope President Trump comes to realize that when his words become public policy in places like Youngstown, families like Amer’s are ripped apart. That’s what this kind of rhetoric and attitude does.
I can only imagine what he would have thought of my immigrant family when they came to America.
A country that punishes those who wish to contribute will not find prosperity. What I saw at the Cleveland ICE facility made me feel sad for more than just Amer and his family – it made me feel for our whole country. Our broken immigration system is hurting real people — good people — and eroding our moral authority.
Fortunately, on the evening of Jan. 18, the Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security voted to request a Department of Homeland Security report on Amer’s case. This action is a necessary step before the subcommittee could consider H.R. 1237 — legislation I introduced to grant Amer legal permanent residence.
Under past administrations, a vote like this would grant Amer a stay of deportation for six months, allowing DHS to compile its report and the subcommittee to consider my legislation.
Amer deserves to have a judge rule on the merits of his case and he deserves to stay in Youngstown – his home.
We must do better. Not only for Amer, but for the countless other families in similar situations.
The 800,000 DREAMers (undocumented children brought to America by their parents) live in a state of limbo, wracked with fear and uncertainty, because of this administration’s lack of empathy. Every American should be angered by what I witnessed in Cleveland and what individuals are experiencing every day under the Trump Administration.
This fight for Amer – and a fairer immigration system — is not over.
Regardless of political party, we should be able to agree on an immigration policy that efficiently and effectively secures the border while providing a humane and sensible path to citizenship for those undocumented immigrants living in the shadows.
This community is showing the country the idea of love and concern for our fellow man regardless of our differences. We have an Irish/Italian Catholic Democratic Congressman helping a Palestinian Muslim, who has a Jewish attorney whose father fled the Holocaust, and the help of an African American Pentecostal Republican Party leader. That, my friends, is what America is all about. For generations, immigrants have enriched and renewed America with excitement and enthusiasm. Amer is doing now what our ancestors did generations ago, and we’re here for him.