Free Amer Othman Adi
The ankle bracelet monitor installed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to track the movements of Amer Othman Adi was unnecessary. On January 4, 2018, “Al” Adi was already saying his goodbyes to the procession of well-wishers who were visiting his convenience store in Youngstown, Ohio. He had sold his house, packed his belongings and purchased tickets to Jordan for him and his American wife. He was set to meet with ICE officials at the airport in three days to comply with his deportation order.
But that afternoon, Adi received word that he had been granted a stay, thanks to the efforts of Democratic Congressman Tim Ryan, as well as local Republican leader Tracey Winbush and a grassroots campaign organized by his family and Youngstown community members. As a condition for his stay, he was given a date to meet with ICE officials, where he believed he would be given the opportunity to discuss his situation further.
Two days later, hundreds gathered for what was originally billed as a farewell party but had become a victory celebration for Adi’s stay. Youngstown Mayor Jamael Tito Brown declared January 6 to be Amer “Al” Adi Othman Day, and politicians and community leaders gave speeches praising Adi as a pillar of the community who helped revitalize downtown Youngstown and brought diverse constituencies together.
Then on January 16, Adi followed orders to report to the ICE office in Cleveland. He was accompanied by a number of supporters, including Congressman Ryan and Republican leader Winbush. Upon arrival, an official was blunt about ICE’s agenda: “We’re not going to beat around the bush. We’re going to take him into custody.” Adi was handcuffed and led away without any explanation.
Adi has since gone on hunger strike to protest the unwarranted and arbitrary treatment being impossed upon him.
Adi’s case—the threat of deportation of a prominent small-town community member that’s halted by a last-hour reprieve, only to be followed by an inexplicable arrest and detention—has received coverage in mainstream outlets, both local and national, including in the Washington Post, Huffington Post, CBS News, and the Daily Beast, and has been highlighted by Ohio gubernatorial candidate Dennis Kucinich and celebrity Alyssa Milano.
But Adi’s case carries particular resonance for the staff of Verso Books because he is the father of a former colleague from our Brooklyn office.
Al Adi was born in Jordan in 1960 to parents who had fled from their Palestinian home during the 1948 Nakba. He later moved to the United States to attend university. In 1980 he married his first wife, Linda Ann Adi, a US citizen, and eventually received a green card for US residency. They divorced in 1982 when they grew apart and she “met someone else,” according to a 2007 affidavit submitted by Linda Adi. She retains the surname Adi to this day.
One early morning in April 1990 immigration officials made an unnanounced visit to Linda Adi’s home to interview her about Al Adi. She met with the officials outside her home because she didn’t want her two children to be “alarmed by having federal agents in the house … I had no clue if [Al Adi] was hurt and needed help or if he had gotten into trouble.”
The agents returned unannounced a few days later, again meeting with her outside her home, in order to get her to sign a statement.
I was aware of what neighbors might be able to hear and see. I wanted to terminate the meeting as soon as possible. I was scared and worried for my children who were inside the house unsupervised and I wanted to get back to them …
At the time I signed the paper I was annoyed at the disruption, scared of the officers, and angry with Amer for causing me this trouble. I just wanted to get things over with so I could go back inside to my children. I got the sense that the officers wanted me to say what they wanted to hear so that would leave me alone … I couldn’t understand what Amer’s immigration status had to do with me, or why they were talking to me about someone who I hadn’t seen in over six years.
The statement that Linda Adi signed in 1990—which immigration officials used to establish that Al Adi’s first marriage was one of convenience—was “untrue,” she wrote in her 2007 affidavit.
We married for no other reason than that we loved each other and wanted to be together … The possibility of Amer receiving a green card never crossed my mind at any point during our courtship or marriage ceremony.
At the time Al Adi was unaware of the interactions between his ex-wife and the immigration officials. He had moved to Youngstown and remarried—his second wife also a US citizen. The couple later moved to Brazil and lived there for three years. When they returned to the US, Adi had his green card revoked due to his stay outside of the country. His wife tried to sponsor a new green card for him, but it was rejected because immigration officials claimed his first marriage was fraudulent based on Linda Adi’s 1990 statement.
Al Adi’s fight to stay in the country
In the subsequent decades Adi has been fighting to stay in the country, working with attorneys and elected leaders and checking in regularly with immigration authorities. In the past, Congressman Ryan has been able to stay Adi’s administrative deportation order by introducing “private bills” in Adi’s name, with the understanding that the Department of Homeland Security would not deport subjects of such bills. Under the Trump administration, according to Ryan, these private bills are no longer being respected.
On January 18, the US House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security voted to request that ICE review Adi’s case, leading supporters to expect Adi would be released the following day. Instead family and supporters who had gathered at the Geauga County jail awaiting his release learned that he had been transported to the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center due to his refusal to eat.
Adi’s case—in which his deportation was stayed, only to be inexplicably imprisoned for potential deportation at a later date—is an example of the inhuman and often arbitrary nature of immigration enforcement in the United States, which so freely plays games with lives and families, while hiding behind ambiguous statements such as the following, in response to media inquiries to Adi’s situation:
For operational security reasons, the agency does not discuss specific removal arrangements prior to an individual’s successful repatriation.
Adi’s case also lays bare the disingenuous dichotomy that pits those who pursue legal channels for immigraton against those who do not. As Adi’s attorney states,
This is a man who has played by the rules ever since he arrived in the United States. In the last several years, he has jumped through every hoop that ICE asked him to jump through … It is important to remember that Mr. Adi was set to leave the US with his wife two weeks ago. He had bought a ticket and made arrangements to voluntarily meet ICE at the airport. ICE then cancelled the deportation — that they would today take him into custody is beyond baffling.
Congressman Tim Ryan has stated that “the case of Amer Othman is a tragic illustration of the abject failure of our immigration system and why it must be fixed,” while local Republican leader and Trump supporter Tracey Winbush, who was present when Adi was unexpectedly handcuffed and led away, tweeted that she was “appalled at what I just saw here at the Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) America should be better than this. My God I thought we were better than this.”
Adi’s family is requesting concerned people take action by contacting Detroit ICE Director Rebecca Adducci at (313) 568-6036 and firstname.lastname@example.org, and calling for Amer Othman Adi’s release from his imprisonment without charges.
Further information on the call to action is available through the US Palestinian Community Network.