Harvard University student from Palestine denied US entry

Ismail Ajjawi says he was questioned for hours at Boston’s airport about religion and friends’ social media posts.

Classes for the new academic year are scheduled to start on September 3 [File: Charles Krupa/AP]

A Palestinian student and incoming Harvard University freshman was barred from entering the United States after the teenager said he was questioned for hours by US immigration officials about his religious practices and friends’ social media activities.

Ismail Ajjawi, a 17-year-old refugee living in Lebanon who was awarded the Hope Fund undergraduate scholarship by US non-profit Amideast, landed at Boston Logan International Airport on Friday before being sent back. 

In a statement to Al Jazeera, Michael McCarthy, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) spokesman said Ajjawi was “deemed inadmissible to the US based on information discovered during the CBP inspection”.

“CBP is responsible for ensuring the safety and admissibility of the goods and people entering the United States,” he said on Tuesday. 

Ajjawi said he was questioned by immigration officials for hours, with one asking him to unlock his phone and laptop for further screening. 

“After the five 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,” he told the Harvard Crimson newspaper

In an emailed statement to the newspaper, the Palestinian said he told the officer he had not made any political posts and should not be held accountable for others’ social media activity.

He said his visa was later revoked and he’s now back in Lebanon. 

“The university is working closely with the student’s family and appropriate authorities to resolve this matter so that he can join his classmates in the coming days,” Jason Newton, associate director of media relations at Harvard, told Al Jazeera. 

‘Act of aggression’

Classes for the new academic year at Harvard are scheduled to start next Tuesday. 

Since 2000, more than 100 young Palestinians from the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem, Lebanon and Jordan have been given scholarships by Amideast’s Hope Fund to study in US universities and colleges. 

But last month, in a letter to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Harvard President Laurence Bacow raised concerns about recent visa delays and denials for international students.

In 2018, the US State Department rejected more than 37,000 visa applications because of the Trump administration’s so-called Muslim ban, up from less than 1,000 the previous year when the restrictions had not fully taken effect.

President Donald Trump has taken a tough stance on immigration with his administration announcing in June that all visitors as well as documented immigrants will have to submit their social media details when applying for US visas.

Elsa Auerbach, member of advocacy group Jewish Voice for Peace Boston, said Ajjawi’s case is “one more act of aggression by the current US administration”.

“This act embodies the xenophobic racism that lies at the core of current US immigration policy, a policy that emboldens immigration officers to violate the rights of those seeking to enter this country even when they have valid documents,” she told Al Jazeera. 

“JVP Boston, along with so many other groups, will not be silent until we can welcome Ismail Ajjawi to the Boston area as he seeks the education that he deserves.”

Follow Saba Aziz on Twitter: @saba_aziz

Source: Al Jazeera