- Getty Images/Joe Raedle
- A Palestinian Harvard freshman was denied entry to the United States after customs officers reportedly dug through his devices and asked him about his religion and his friends’ social media posts.
- Ismail Ajjawi told The Harvard Crimson that officers spent hours looking through his phone and laptop, and “found people posting political points of view that oppose the US on my friend[s] list.”
- A Customs and Border Protection spokesperson confirmed to Insider that Ajjawi was “deemed inadmissible” after a customs inspection, though would not say why.
- A Harvard University spokesman told Insider the school is working with Ajjawi to resolve the situation in time for the school year, which starts on September 3.
- Harvard officials have previously complained to Trump administration officials about students experiencing increased visa delays and denials.
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An incoming Harvard University freshman was refused entry to the United States and had his visa canceled after customs officers spent hours digging through his electronics and questioning him about his religion and his friends, he told The Harvard Crimson.
Ismail Ajjawi, a Palestinian student who lived in Lebanon, told the student newspaper that the customs officers at Boston’s Logan International Airport demanded he unlock his phone and laptop, then spent five hours searching the devices.
“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,” Ajjawi told the Crimson in a statement.
Ajjawi said he told the officer he had not made any political posts himself, and that he shouldn’t be held accountable for his friends’ posts and political views.
Ajjawi added that the officer canceled his visa and let him call his parents.
CBP says Ajjawi wasn’t deported – but his visa was canceled and he was denied entry
- Getty Images/Scott Eisen
Contrary to the Crimson’s original report, Ajjawi was not deported from the US, a Customs and Border Protection spokesperson confirmed to Insider. A deportation is generally a complex and formal process ordered by an immigration judge after a foreign national is found to have violated immigration laws.
Instead, Ajjawi’s case was handled by customs officers who deemed him “inadmissible to the United States based on information discovered during the CBP inspection,” the agency said in a statement.
The CBP spokesperson said due to privacy requirements, the agency couldn’t share details on why Ajjawi was denied entry.
Though Ajjawi told the Crimson he was entering the US on a visa, no visa guarantees that a person can enter the US.
“A visa only allows a foreign citizen to travel to a US port-of-entry (generally an airport) and request permission to enter the United States,” according to the State Department’s website (emphasis added).
It’s legal for customs officers to seize travelers’ electronic devices and peruse them without a warrant, regardless of whether the traveler is a visitor, visa-holder, or even a US citizen. The American Civil Liberties Union has sued over the practice.
Harvard says US officials’ crackdown on international students is negatively affecting the university
- Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
CBP’s statement to Insider said every foreign national who arrives at a US port of entry needs to prove they’re admissible, and can be denied entry based on “health-related grounds, criminality, security reasons, public charge, labor certification, illegal entrants and immigration violations, documentation requirements, and miscellaneous grounds.”
“CBP is responsible for ensuring the safety and admissibility of the goods and people entering the United States,” the agency’s statement said.
Harvard University spokesman Jason Newton told Insider in a statement that school officials are “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.”
Classes start on September 3.
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It’s not the first time the school has raised concerns about the way immigration authorities handle international students. In a July letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan, Harvard President Lawrence Bacow wrote that students have faced more visa delays and denials than in the past.
“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,” he said, adding that international students were “essential” to university life.
“Their diverse talents, experiences, and insights drive discovery and fuel our work. Increasingly, visa delays are making these scholars’ attendance and engagement in the university unpredictable and anxiety-ridden,” he said.