Ismail B. Ajjawi touched down at Boston Logan International Airport on Friday night, prepared to begin his freshman year at Harvard University. The 17-year-old Palestinian student never left the airport.
According to a statement by Ajjawi, an immigration officer claimed she “found people posting political points of view that oppose the U.S.,” though she discovered nothing Ajjawi had posted himself.
“After the 5 hours ended, she called me into a room, and she started screaming at me. She said that she found people posting political points of view that oppose the US on my friend[s] list,” Ajjawi wrote, describing what happened after the officer searched his electronics. “I responded that I have no business with such posts and that I didn’t like, [s]hare or comment on them and told her that I shouldn’t be held responsible for what others post.”
Then, the Crimson reported, Ajjawi’s visa was revoked and he returned to Lebanon.
Ajjawi did not return messages from The Washington Post seeking comment.
Harvard spokesman Jonathan L. Swain said in an emailed statement: “The University is working closely with the student’s family and appropriate authorities to resolve this matters so that he can join his classmates in the coming days.” Classes begin Sept. 3.
Michael McCarthy, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said in an email that the department is “responsible for ensuring the safety and admissibility of the goods and people entering the United States. Applicants must demonstrate they are admissible into the U.S. by overcoming all grounds of inadmissibility including health-related grounds, criminality, security reasons, public charge, labor certification, illegal entrants and immigration violations, documentation requirements, and miscellaneous grounds. This individual was deemed inadmissible to the United States based on information discovered during the CBP inspection.”
A State Department spokesperson said in an email to The Post: “Visa records are confidential under U.S. law; therefore, we cannot discuss the details of individual visa cases. Generally, visa applicants are continuously screened, both at the time of their application and afterwards, to ensure they remain eligible to travel to the United States.”
A CBP spokesperson said every applicant for admission to the United States is subject to complete inspection on arrival, and no one is allowed to enter until he or she has satisfied the examining officer of U.S. citizenship or admissibility. In all cases, the applicant bears the burden of proof of admissibility, the official said.
The State Department has the authority to issue and revoke visas, the official said, and CBP has the authority to cancel visas under certain circumstances. If the agency determines an applicant is inadmissible for entry, CBP can cancel the visa.
Ajjawi said that, initially, he was detained with a handful of international students. As the others were released, however, he was questioned about his religious practices and social media activity.
Despite Friday’s events, the Crimson reported that Ajjawi’s experience is “rare among Harvard undergraduates.”
Two students and two scholars were blocked from entering the country in January 2017 because of the Trump administration’s travel ban on seven majority-Muslim countries, Swain said.
Harvard’s president, Lawrence S. Bacow, wrote to the secretary of state and acting secretary of homeland security last month to express his concerns about student visas and student work visas. “Students report difficulties getting initial visas — from delays to denials,” he wrote. “Scholars have experienced postponements and disruptions for what have previously been routine immigration processes such as family visas, renewals of status, or clearance for international travel. This year graduates across Harvard have seen significant delays in receiving Optional Practical Training approvals. This has hindered or endangered their post-graduate work and, in some cases, their medical residencies.”
Bacow wrote that he appreciates that there is a broader policy priority with regard to the security concerns, including protection of intellectual property and reporting on donations to the institution, but that visa policies mandating increased scrutiny of foreign students and scholars was raising concern. “Academic science is open and collaborative,” he wrote. “While we support appropriate measures to safeguard valuable intellectual property, national defense, and sensitive, emerging technologies, singling out one country and its citizens is incompatible with the culture and mission of higher education and our national ideals.”
The news prompted strong reactions, both from some who applauded U.S. efforts to protect national security and from others sorry that a young scholar was not allowed entry.
I cried reading this.— David Hogg (@davidhogg111) August 27, 2019
The joy and excitement of moving into Harvard today was stolen from
my classmate Ismail B. Ajjawi.
When they arrived in the us and after examination of their social media— was deported for the political beliefs of friends they followed on social media. https://t.co/IJKyWyTFak
Sarah McLaughlin, director of targeted advocacy at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, said in an emailed statement that the group “is alarmed by the numerous recent accusations that U.S. immigration officials are denying visas on the basis of political viewpoints. Ajjawi’s allegations, if accurate, represent a threat to academic freedom, one that should be taken seriously by those who care about protecting expressive freedoms in the United States.”
Liz Sly contributed to this report.