Ten days after being detained at Boston Logan International Airport and deported back to the Middle East, a 17-year-old Palestinian student from Tyre, Lebanon, was readmitted into the U.S. and allowed to begin his undergraduate education at Harvard University this week.
As reported by The Harvard Crimson, Ismail Ajjawi, a member of Harvard’s 2023 class, was determined to be “inadmissible” by immigration authorities a few days before the start of the semester after he was detained for several hours at Logan International, had his cell phone and computer temporarily confiscated for review, and was questioned about his friends’ social media activity and his political and religious beliefs, according to the student.
Upon arriving to the airport, Ajjawi and several other international students were questioned by immigration officials, the Crimson reported. “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,” according to the campus paper. “The same officer then asked him to unlock his phone and laptop, and left to search them for roughly five hours, Ajjawi alleges.”
“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,” Ajjawi told the Crimson. “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. I have no single post on my timeline discussing politics.”
What exactly the posts in question said is unclear.
While the State Department would not offer comment on the case, citing the confidentiality of visa records, a Customs and Border Patrol spokesperson told the paper that Ajjawi was deported because he was found to be “inadmissible.”
“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 said in a statement to the Crimson. “This individual was deemed inadmissible to the United States based on information discovered during the CBP inspection.”
The deportation of Ajjawi was met with pushback from the university and the Harvard community, as well as the student and faculty rights group, Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). “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,” FIRE’s Director of Targeted Advocacy Sarah McLaughlin said in a statement to The Daily Wire.
Ajjawi’s family expressed relief that the situation has been resolved and thanked the group that helped him get into Harvard, AMIDEAST. “The last ten days have been difficult and anxiety filled, but we are most grateful for the thousands of messages of support and particularly the work of AMIDEAST,” the family’s statement reads, as reported by the Crimson. “We hope now that everyone can respect our and Ismail’s privacy and he can now simply focus on settling into College and his important class work.”
FIRE also expressed relief that Ajjawi had been admitted. “Given the serious chilling effect viewpoint-based decision-making creates, we hope that other cases like Ajjawi’s will receive similar attention and scrutiny,” the organization said.