After two decades fighting to remain in the United States, Amer Othman Adi spent the first days of 2018 saying goodbye to his friends and neighbors in his adopted hometown of Youngstown, Ohio.
That is until his lawyer and supporters — including a Congressman — secured a final-hour stay of deportation yesterday, just a few days before Adi’s forced deportation to Jordan scheduled for Sunday.
Adi, a Palestinian-American businessman and community activist, has owned and run a number of businesses in the city for years, including the popular Downtown Circle Hookah Bar.
“I have been fighting this deportation for almost 23 years; I thought we had it solved,” Adi told a small group of teary-eyed friends and neighbors gathered at the hookah bar on Tuesday. “But when Donald Trump was elected I knew I was in trouble.”
While the Obama administration deported more immigrants than any previous commander in chief, Donald Trump’s election and racist anti-immigrant rhetoric has emboldened federal agencies like Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE). ICE has essentially become, in words of one commentator, “disturbingly authoritarian“, terrorizing immigrant communities with indiscriminate raids and deportations.
In September, ICE agents informed Adi that he had three months before he would be forced to leave the country. Adi and his wife Fidaa — a U.S. citizen — resolved to move to Jordan, while their daughters finished college and kept the family businesses open.
At the same gathering with fellow Youngstown residents at his Downtown Circle Hookah Bar, Adi expressed utter disbelief at the treatment he received by the federal immigration agents.
“[ICE] didn’t even trust the fact that I do not have a record, I’ve always gone by the rules,” he explained.
“So they gave me this,” Adi said, lifting up his leg to reveal a digital ankle monitor, “so they would know exactly where I’m at…they probably know that I’m talking to you.”
Although the local news reporting has performed gymnastics to avoid mentioning Adi’s true place of origin and citizenship, Hatem Abudayyeh, of the national coordinating committee of the United States Palestinian Community Network (USPCN) confirmed to Mondoweiss that Adi is originally from Beit Safafa, a town in occupied East Jerusalem.
In 1948, his family fled the Zionist militias of a fledgling Israeli state, becoming refugees during the Nakba. In 1979 at the age of nineteen, Adi left Jordan for the United States on a visa. He subsequently married his first wife, an American citizen, which granted him a green card.
They eventually divorced and in 1988, Adi was remarried to his current wife Fidaa after moving to Ohio.
But his immigration troubles began in 1991, when they returned to the US after a few years in Brazil. Based on an affidavit signed by his first wife stating they married only for a green card, which she claims was signed under duress and harassment from immigration enforcement officials who showed up to her home early in the morning, the state rescinded Adi’s green card, claiming that his first marriage was a “sham”.
Despite a second affidavit in 2007 from Adi’s first wife that explains how she was angry and pressured into signing the first, Adi was ordered deported the same year.
He has been fighting the decision ever since.
In 2013 Adi found an ally in Congressman Tim Ryan, representative for Ohio’s 13th District, who has filed a “private bill” in Congress every year on Adi’s behalf. Congress members have the authority to file such a bill in the case of an impending deportation, granting additional time to contest the deportation of a specific individual.
Under the Trump administration however, ICE and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have vowed not to honor these arrangements.
After the news broke Thursday afternoon that Adi would be granted another stay of deportation, Congressman Ryan joined him in celebrating the temporary victory.
“It was a total team effort from this man, his family, his attorney, the community rallying around him, the people who work here, the mayor. There was just unbelievable community support,” Ryan told a reporter while gathered at the hookah bar on Thursday evening. “And we were the conduit in Washington.”
The length and details of the arranged stay of deportation have not been made public at this time. Congressman Ryan’s office would not comment on the specifics, but expressed relief that Adi would be able to stay in the country for now.
While the Congressman’s support has been well appreciated and impactful, USPCN’s Abudayyeh noted that “[Amer’s] been fighting to stay here a long time, longer than Ryan has been filing these private bills.”
Adi’s case has garnered a relatively extensive amount of attention, considering that indeed every day hundreds of immigrants go through deportation proceedings and are eventually deported with near anonymity in the press.
With the state “essentially targeting hundreds of thousands of people potentially for deportation, I think there is still a big fear in the community,” Abudayyeh told Mondoweiss. “People in the Arab and Palestinian and Muslim communities across the country have been doing a lot of work around immigration and immigrant rights, with the Muslim ban, with the implementation memos.”
“Definitely there’s a sigh of relief here because of the stay, but there’s still a lot of work to be done with the Congressman and the community to continue to support Amer and make sure that he doesn’t have to leave his family,” Abudayyeh added.
The media coverage has also positioned Adi’s commercial relationship primary among his contributions as an immigrant. “You read a lot about his business relationships with the city,” said Abudayyeh, which overshadows his community activism.
“Not just Amer himself but his wife and their children have been incredible in terms of their commitment to Youngstown, Ohio in general. Their commitment to the Arab American community that’s there especially.”
Abudayyeh ackowledged that the fight against deportation must be coordinated with the community most affected by such draconian immigration policies.
“We work very closely with folks from the Latino community,” he said. “We take our leadership from them when it comes to the demands of DHS and ICE and Trump.”