The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency has denied a stay of deportation to a Palestinian businessman, in a widely reported case that prompted outrage and saw involvement of US Congress members.
On Thursday, ICE said in a press release that Amer Othman Adi, 57, who lives in Youngstown, Ohio, will remain in ICE custody until deportation at an undisclosed time, local media reported.
The decision comes despite a request from the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee to grant him a six-month stay of deportation.
Adi was arrested on January 16 during a check-in at an ICE office in Brooklyn Heights, Ohio. He had been preparing to leave the country on January 7 when, days prior to that date, ICE told him in a phone call that his deportation had been postponed.
“When we got that phone call in the morning, it was confusing, it was at the same time exciting. Is there a miracle happening – they’re going to let [him] stay?” Adi’s wife of 30 years, Fidaa Musleh, told Al Jazeera on Wednesday.
“We had already sold our home. We gave away all our belongings at that point and we were ready to go.”
But when Adi, who has been in the US for 38 years, appeared for what he thought was a routine meeting at a local ICE office, he was taken into custody.
“It feels like they deceived us. Why is it? Are [they] trying to make an example out of him?” Musleh, a US citizen, said.
Adi’s lawyer David Leopold called the detention days after calling off Adi’s self-arranged departure from the country “cruel”.
“This is not about policy. This is not about objectives. This is about cruelty and this is about the dehumanisation and frankly the public humiliation of a pillar of the community,” Leopold told Al Jazeera.
US Congressman Tim Ryan, a long-time advocate for Adi, was present on the day of his arrest.
“This abrupt bait and switch was the most outrageous and inhumane thing I have ever seen in my career,” the Democrat representing Ohio’s 13th Congressional district wrote in Youngstown newspaper The Vindicator.
Two days after Adi was taken into custody, Ryan won support from the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security, which unanimously voted in favour of a private bill asking ICE to grant him a six-month stay of deportation so that his case could be reviewed.
But on Thursday ICE released a statement in which it said it had “chosen not to grant a stay of removal in his case”.
The immigration enforcement agency reiterated its previously stated position that a number of courts had held that Adi does not have a legal basis to remain in the US.
“While ICE acknowledges Congress’ authority to pass legislation providing immigration benefits to non-citizens, alien beneficiaries need not be present in the United States for a private immigration relief bill to be introduced, considered and/or enacted,” ICE spokesperson Khaalid Walls said in the statement.
Leopold said that both he and his client were disappointed at ICE’s decision not to grant the stay of deportation, the Plain Dealer, a Cleveland-based daily, reported.
“Of course he’s mostly perplexed at why he’s sitting in jail,” Leopold told the daily.
One of Adi’s four daughters accused ICE of cruelty on Thursday.
“We were all mentally prepared for him to be gone and then you tell him to wait and stay so you can put him in jail? For what, and you don’t want to answer why or for what when he was leaving? Because you have no answers, you have no answers,” Lina Adi told local radio station WKSU.
Arrests by ICE were up in the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency. ICE said they had arrested more than 41,000 individuals between January 22 and April 29, 2017 – a more than 37 percent increase over the same period in 2016.
Some analysts have claimed that ICE has been going after “low-hanging fruit”, arresting those who are known to the immigration enforcement agency and attend their check-ins.
In another widely reported case, Polish doctor and green card holder Lukasz Niec, 43, was arrested at home on Tuesday morning, allegedly over two misdemeanor convictions from his teenage years.
Actual deportations were down in 2017 compared with 2016.
Adi has reportedly been on hunger strike since the day of his detention. On Thursday, ICE said that Adi had apparently ended his hunger strike. But The Vindicator quoted Lina Adi a saying that her father had eaten only one teaspoon of food and had since resumed his fast.
Adi, born in Jordan to Palestinian parents, moved to the US when he was 19. He received a green card after marrying his first wife, but was denied a second green card in the 1990s when immigration officials called his first marriage “a sham”. His first wife signed an affidavit in 2007 stating the opposite.