When many immigrants in America hear the acronym ICE, the common reaction is a shudder of terror and anxiety. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office “enforces federal laws governing border control, customs, trade and immigration to promote homeland security and public safety”. Slick marketing copy aside, ICE’s operations tears families and communities apart.
And this is exactly what happened to Amer Othman Adi. Mr Othman Adi, a businessman based in Ohio, Youngstown, came from Jordan to live in America almost 40 years ago. Since then, Othman Adi, who runs a hookah bar and deli has become an important pillar in his community, helping revitalise the city’s failing downtown district. The district is now a thriving area with restaurants, bars and events. But an ongoing deportation order has overshadowed much of his life in America, a situation many other non-nationals could relate to. Mr Othman Adi has fought the order alongside his family with as much energy and money as they can muster. The appeal has been backed by local politicians who praised him for being an exemplary and upstanding member of the community, creating jobs and opportunities for many.
“ICE continued to hound him, ignoring anything that would allow him free reign in America”
It would seem strange though that someone in his position, and who has lived so long in America would face such a problem. Since 1979 ICE has continuously required him to present for routine check-ins and the institution would sometimes threaten to deport him, giving him 90 days to pack up and leave. ICE’s issue is centred on the assumption that Mr Othman Adi’s first marriage was sham and was performed in order to obtain a green card. His first wife has since come forward to challenge that charge, and signed an affidavit in 2007 confirming the “authenticity” of their union. The evidence presented both on a personal and political level should have been enough to vindicate Mr Othman Adi and grant him his stay. Yet, ICE continued to hound him, ignoring anything that would allow him free reign in America.
This is not surprising given the US’ history of mistreating and abusing its more recent immigrant population. Many families have been unable to settle due to constant harassment by the authorities, creating a common narrative of those who have given so much to a land that continues to reject them.
“Their ambiguity is a tool of oppression as well. There’s nothing transparent about the immigration system or ICE”
In Mr Othman Adi’s case, he has now been deported back to Amman, Jordan following an arrest by ICE, despite being given a last-hour reprieve earlier in the month. His hunger strike to protest the unwarranted and arbitrary treatment being imposed upon him was to no avail. His daughter, Haneen Adi, who has fought tirelessly by his side said: “Their ambiguity is a tool of oppression as well. There’s nothing transparent about the immigration system or ICE. You feel you’re constantly in the dark until one day you’re on a hunger strike in prison and you have no idea why.”
Mr Othman Adi’s treatment is not an isolated incident, in fact, many immigrants have experienced a similar handling of their case. Past administrations, using the same policies, have lead recurring mass deportation campaigns that have wreaked havoc for immigrant communities that have established their lives and families in America.
“Statistics show that 60 percent of undocumented immigrants have lived in the United States for a decade or more”
Obama’s administration enforced the deportation of three million undocumented migrants, particularly targeting those who had committed crimes. Trump’s aggressive deportation programme aims to more broadly forcibly remove anyone who is in violation of immigration law, without exemption for certain categories of people as there was under Obama. His plans include introducing more officials and removing “sanctuary cities” that protect immigrants from deportation. This could affect up to eight million people.
Statistics show that 60 percent of undocumented immigrants have lived in the United States for a decade or more. One third of undocumented immigrants aged fifteen or older – four million people – live with a child who is a US citizen by birth, according to Human Rights Watch. Deportation then, for many immigrants is a steep price to pay for simply wanting to live normal lives in the US. The xenophobic and prejudiced rhetoric that seems to dominate current migration policy leads to tragedies such as Mr Othman Adi being deported with little to no warning.
The cruel and inhumane practices of border controls characterise a system that is broken and is in desperate need of reform in order to enable migrants to swiftly gain legal protection. Without better protections enshrined in law (and likely even with better legislation, if a huge shift in public attitudes is not catalysed), many immigrants like Mr Othman Adi will continue to swallowed up by discriminatory laws that strip them of their civil rights and liberties, an entity that America swears to so strongly defend.