Tears were streaming down Tracey Winbush’s cheeks as she told reporters that popular Youngstown businessman Amer “Al” Adi Othman had been arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.
Adi, who has spent years trying to persuade the federal government to grant him permanent resident status, is being deported to his native Jordan. He came to the United States as a 19-year-old four decades ago, but now has run smack dab into Republican President Donald J. Trump’s edict that all unauthorized immigrants in this country must be drummed out.
Winbush’s tears were for her friend and his family, but the irony of her sorrow was not lost on this writer who has long wondered about her allegiance to Trump.
Last year, Winbush, vice chairman of the Mahoning County Republican Party and president of the 70-member Ohio Black Republicans Association, refused to criticize Trump after he suggested a moral equivalency between white extremists like neo- Nazis and decent Americans fighting for racial and ethnic equality in this country.
It’s the very fight for equality that Adi, his wife, Fidaa Musleh, their four daughters, other family members and numerous friends have been waging.
The only thing the owner of Downtown Circle Convenience Store and Deli in Youngstown wants is the chance to appear in a court of law and respond to any and all allegations made by ICE to deny his application for permanent residency.
Democratic Congressman Tim Ryan of Howland has been unwavering in his determination to prevent Adi’s deportation, going so far as to sponsor legislation to make his taxpaying constituent a legal immigrant.
Ryan has stood by Adi’s side and has let it be known in no uncertain terms that President Trump is to blame for the businessman’s imprisonment and anticipated deportation.
The congressman is right.
Trump, whose rants against immigrants made him popular with white, blue-collar workers, set aside a long-standing policy embraced by his predecessor, Democrat Barack Obama, and other presidents, both Republican and Democratic.
Under the policy, deportations of illegal immigrants were put on hold if members of Congress sponsored legislation on their behalf.
Thus, during President Obama’s tenure, Congressman Ryan’s bill staved off Adi’s deportation.
But all bets were off once Trump took office, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement initially set Jan. 7 as the day of Adi’s departure to Jordan.
But he got a last-minute reprieve as a result of an outpouring of support for him from the community and a bipartisan political effort locally and in Washington.
Since then, however, he and his family have ridden a roller coaster of emotions as a result of bureaucratic posturing.
But that rollercoaster stopped Jan. 16 when Adi, accompanied by his wife and daughters, Congressman Ryan, Winbush and others went to Cleveland for what they believed was a pro forma meeting with ICE officials.
However, when the businessman entered the meeting room, he was arrested and taken away from his family.
The sheer cruelty of the arrest shocked those who were with him, including members of the press, and brought tears to the eyes of one of the most prominent black Republicans in Ohio – and a staunch defender of Republican President Trump.
Here’s what Winbush said at a subsequent public event designed to put pressure on ICE to release Adi from prison:
“Please don’t hold him and keep him away from the people that love him because he has not done anything wrong. You should have just let him go, but don’t ambush him and treat him like he’s a common criminal.”
Her comments were aimed at ICE, but in reality she should have made the appeal directly to the man she admires, President Trump.
After all, Winbush has been one of his most vocal apologists in the Mahoning Valley.
During the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July 2016, Winbush, who was a delegate for Ohio Gov. John Kasich, insisted that Trump was not a racist despite the many shocking comments he had made about people of color.
Winbush sought to put a kinder, gentler face on the GOP nominee for president by describing him as “Uncle Bob who sits at the Thanksgiving table who says something that embarrasses you,” but doesn’t mean to do so.
Thus, when President Trump sought to explain what took place in Charlottesville, Va., last August over the removal of the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, Winbush again came to his defense.
This is what Trump said:
“I think there is blame on both sides. You had a group on one side that was bad. You had a group on the other side that was also very violent. Nobody wants to say that. I will say it right now.”
Here are facts: White nationalist groups, including the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis, had gone to Charlottesville to protest the removal of Lee’s statue. Many in the crowd were heavily armed. They were confronted by smaller gatherings of individuals committed to erasing the vestiges of this country’s racist past.
And while Trump sought to place blame for the violence on both sides, the fact remains it was a white extremist who used his car as a weapon in a terrorist attack on the opponents of the alt-right groups. One woman, Heather Heyer, was killed; 19 people were injured; and two state troopers who were on helicopter patrol died in a crash.
True to form – and with her political blinders firmly in place – Winbush offered this asinine explanation for what occurred:
“It is our belief that violent activities would not have risen to the level it did and we would not be having this discussion” if the media had not publicized the rally before it happened.
But now, she has had the chance to experience up close the pain and suffering caused by President Trump’s policies regarding race and immigration.
It is worth noting that not once during the sad saga of Al Adi’s deportation did Winbush place the blame where it belongs: the Trump White House.
So, when Al and his wife, Fidaa, finally board a plane for Jordan, will Winbush finally say something to restore her credibility, or will she just continue being a defender of the president whose policies have torn a loving family apart?
Will she shed tears of regret for her continued support of “Uncle Bob?”