1st-Year Harvard Student Stopped At Boston Airport, Sent Home With Canceled Visa
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Around the country, students are moving into dorms and readying themselves for the academic year ahead. But that is not the case for Palestinian student Ismail Ajjawi. Last Friday night, he arrived at Boston's Logan International Airport. He was bound for his first year at Harvard University. But immigration officers at the airport canceled his visa and denied him entry into the U.S. Ajjawi was then sent back home to Lebanon.
He shared details from his story with The Harvard Crimson, and staff writer Delano Franklin joins me now. Welcome.
DELANO FRANKLIN: Hi.
CHANG: So how did you first learn of Ismail Ajjawi's story?
FRANKLIN: He had been in contact with a nonprofit group that had helped him through a scholarship that he received to come study in the United States. And that group had been in communication with some other groups. And those groups found out about what Ismail was facing, and they tweeted about it. And we saw those tweets, and we reached out to him. We got in contact with him over social media, and we exchanged a few messages back and forth.
CHANG: OK, and he basically issued a written statement alleging all the events that happened between him and these immigration officials, right? So tell us what that statement said.
FRANKLIN: So he goes through, starting with his arrival. He came in on Friday afternoon - he says around 2:00 p.m. Once he got there, he went through normal immigration procedures. He had his passport checked. He faced a bit of questioning, but he says that one immigration officer continued to question him about things like his religion and religion back home in Lebanon. And after that, he says that same officer asked him for the passwords to his phone and laptop, confiscated them and after around five hours, came back and began to question him about his friends' social media activity.
CHANG: Posts that his friends had made on social media, not that he, Ismail, had made.
FRANKLIN: Yes, just his friends' posts.
CHANG: OK, were they his actual friends or just people he was connected to in whatever social media network we're talking about?
FRANKLIN: He only described them as his friends on social media. I don't know what their actual relationship was.
CHANG: OK, anything else?
FRANKLIN: So the immigration officer came back, told him that she had found some posts that - he describes it as containing anti-American sentiments. And she tells him that because of that, they were going to be canceling his visa and that he would be deported.
CHANG: We should point out that Customs and Border Protection did not use the word deport to describe what happened to this student. We do have a statement from Michael S. McCarthy from Customs and Border Protection confirming that Ajjawi was, quote, "deemed inadmissible to the United States based on information discovered during the CBP inspection." But of course, CBP is not commenting on the specifics of Ajjawi's denial of entry.
What has been Harvard's official response to all of this? Are they trying to actively help Ajjawi at this point?
FRANKLIN: They haven't said much, though they have said that they're doing everything they can to get him on campus.
CHANG: So what's next for Ismail Ajjawi? I mean, does he still hope to make it to campus before classes start on September 3?
FRANKLIN: He told us that if everything goes according to plan, he'll be able to be on campus for the first time within the week. But whether or not that is going to happen is unclear right now.
CHANG: You say if things go according to plan. Is there a plan in place?
FRANKLIN: I mean, right now, he's basically just trying to reapply for a visa. I know that he's been in touch with a lawyer through that scholarship group that he's associated with. But beyond that, we're not really sure.
CHANG: Delano Franklin is a staff writer at The Harvard Crimson. Thanks very much for joining us today.
FRANKLIN: Absolutely. Thank you.
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