Palestinian Harvard Freshman Allegedly Barred From U.S. Over Friends' Social Media Posts

Photo: Charles Krupa (AP)

Palestinian teenager Ismail Ajjawi claims he was detained and eventually barred from entering the United States by immigration officials who stopped him as he traveled into the country to begin his freshman year at Harvard University. Their alleged reason? Social media posts made by other people, which they were able to see after checking Ajjawi’s various electronic devices.

17-year-old Ajjawi was en route to Cambridge, MA, to begin his time at Harvard this week when he was stopped at Boston’s Logan International Airport, detained for hours, and eventually put on a flight back home to Lebanon with his visa canceled, the Harvard Crimson reported on Tuesday. While in custody, he said immigration officials searched his phone and computer, and subsequently began questioning him about online statements written his friends, over which Ajjawi has no actual control.

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“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 U.S. 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,” he continued. “I have no single post on my timeline discussing politics.”

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In a statement to Splinter, Customs and Border Protection Agency spokesperson Michael McCarthy defended the decision to ban Ajjawi, writing:

CBP is responsible for ensuring the safety and admissibility of the goods and people entering the United States. 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.

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But let’s take a step back here: It is patently insane that a visa-holder would have his entry to the United States seemingly adjudicated based on other people’s actions—particularly given his status as a matriculated student at the country’s premier educational institution. Remember, just this spring, President Trump touted his “merit-based” immigration proposal which seemed to preference applicants fitting Ajjawi’s exact description.

According to the Crimson, Ajjawi—who was attending Harvard on a scholarship awarded by the international education non-profit AMIDEAST—is currently working with lawyers provided by the group, as well as has been in contact with University officials, to help resolve his situation.

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“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,” a spokesperson for Harvard told the Crimson.

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Rafi Schwartz

Senior writer. When in doubt he'll have the soup.