INCOMING HARVARD FRESHMAN TURNED AWAY FROM ENTERING US BY US CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION

Written by: Taher Kameli, Esq.

Throughout the country, many young adults are excitedly commencing their college years as freshmen.  For those attending top-ranked schools, such as Harvard University, this excitement is probably even greater.  However, in at least one case, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has turned this excitement into disappointment, as on August 23, incoming Harvard freshman Ismail B. Ajjawi was turned away from entering the United States by CBP.

Ajjawi is a 17-year old Palestinian resident of Tyre, Lebanon.  He arrived at Boston’s Logan International Airport as an accepted member of Harvard’s class of 2023 (a current freshman).  Upon arrival, Ajjawi and several other international students were questioned by CBP immigration officials. While the other students were allowed to leave, Ajjawi continued to be questioned about his religion and religious practices in Lebanon.  A CBP immigration officer then asked Ajjawi to unlock his phone and laptop, and left to search them for roughly 5 hours. After the search, Ajjawi was questioned about his friends’ social media activity. According to Ajjawi, “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. . . . 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”. The CBP immigration officer then cancelled Ajjawi’s visa and informed him that he would be deported.       

CBP spokesman Michael S. McCarthy wrote in an email, “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”.

Harvard spokesman Jonathan L. Swain wrote in an email, “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”.

This incident involving Ajjawi follows an unrelated separate letter sent in July by Harvard’s President, Lawrence Bacow, to United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and acting United States Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin K. McAleenan that criticized the visa and immigration process under the Trump administration as “driving anxiety and fear . . . Increasingly, visa delays are making these scholars’ attendance and engagement in the university unpredictable and anxiety-ridden. . . . Students report difficulties getting initial visas – from delays to denials. . . . 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”.

Ajjawi, who has returned home to Lebanon, is in touch with a lawyer to hopefully resolve his immigration issue before classes start at Harvard on September 3.  Ajjawi’s response is the appropriate one for any immigrant being challenged on an immigration issue by the Trump administration – work with a lawyer to attempt to successfully resolve the issue.  With its knowledge and experience concerning immigration law, the Law Offices of Kameli and Associates for many years has successfully represented immigrants on immigration issues. If you need help with any immigration issue, please contact the Law Offices of Kameli and Associates, at taher@kameli.com or 312-233-1000, for assistance.