A 17-year-old Palestinian student from Tyre, Lebanon, who was supposed to start classes this week at Harvard University, was abruptly deported Friday night after officials detained him at Boston’s international airport. After questioning the student and examining his cell phone and computer, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) says they determined that he was “inadmissible” to the country. The student, who is getting legal help from the university and a non-profit to try to get readmitted to the U.S., says he was specifically questioned about social media posts by some of his friends.
According to The Harvard Crimson, the student, Ismail Ajjawi, who was supposed to be a member of Harvard’s 2023 class, says that shortly after arriving at Boston Logan International Airport on Friday, officials detained him and asked for access to his cell phone and his computer, both of which they took for review for several hours. Ajjawi sent a written statement to The Harvard Crimson about what he said took place on Friday.
“Upon arrival, Ajjawi faced questioning from immigration officials along with several other international students,” the campus paper reports. “While the other students were allowed to leave, Ajjawi alleges an immigration officer continued to question him about his religion and religious practices in Lebanon. The same officer then asked him to unlock his phone and laptop, and left to search them for roughly five hours, Ajjawi alleges.”
The student says that after reviewing his devices, the officer returned to “scream” at him about the social media posts of his friends.
“When I asked every time to have my phone back so I could tell them about the situation, the officer refused and told me to sit back in [my] position and not move at all,” the student claims. “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.”
“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,” Ajjawi told the paper. “I have no single post on my timeline discussing politics.”
The student says that after being questioned about his friends’ social media activity, the officer gave him back his devices but canceled his visa and told him that he would be deported.
Asked for comment on Ajjawi’s deportation, a State Department official told The Harvard Crimson that visa records are confidential. A CBP spokesperson, however, informed the paper that Ajjawi was deported because he was found to be “inadmissible.” The spokesperson offered a general explanation of the way the agency determines admissibility.
“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,” the spokesperson wrote in a statement reported by the Crimson. “This individual was deemed inadmissible to the United States based on information discovered during the CBP inspection.”
The paper notes that both the university’s immigration lawyers and the nonprofit that provided Ajjawi a scholarship, AMIDEAST, are working with the federal government to try to get the student admitted into the country.
AMIDEAST is a nonprofit founded in 1951 focused on international education and training for residents of the Middle East and North Africa. The group describes its mission as seeking “to create hope, opportunity, and mutual understanding among people in the Middle East, North Africa, and the United States through life-changing opportunities for education and cultural exchanges.”
H/T The Hill