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Incoming Harvard Student Denied Entry to US by Boston CBP Officer

Ismail Ajjawi "was deemed inadmissible to the United States based on information discovered during the CBP inspection," according to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection representative



    Be the Toast of the Breeders’ Cup
    Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg via Getty Images, File
    This June 30, 2015, file photo shows the Harvard University campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts, across the Charles River.

    An incoming Harvard University freshman was denied entry to the United States, the school confirmed Tuesday, the day when first years were set to move into their dormitories.

    Ismail Ajjawi is an incoming first year, part of the class of 2023. He told The Harvard Crimson, which was first to report the story, that a customs official refused his entry after eight hours at Boston Logan International Airport Friday night that included questioning about his religious practices and friends' posts to social media.

    An officer who inspected his phone and laptop for hours "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 wrote to the college newspaper, which reported that he is from Palestine but has been living in Lebanon.

    Harvard dormitories opened their doors to all first-year students Tuesday, with the first day of classes set for next Tuesday.

    "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 Harvard spokesman said in a statement.

    A U.S. Customs and Border Protection representative confirmed in an email that Ajjawi "was deemed inadmissible to the United States based on information discovered during the CBP inspection."

    The representative didn't say what that information was, but outlined that anyone entering the U.S. "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."

    CBP's examining officers can prevent foreign nationals from entering.

    Visa applicants are screened when they apply and afterward, a State Department representative told NBC News, but referred questions about travelers denied entry to the U.S. to the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the CBP.

    NBC10 Boston has reached out to Ajjawi and AMIDEAST, an organization the Crimson reported had given him a scholarship to study at Harvard.

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    Ajjawi is back in Lebanon and in touch with a lawyer and the Harvard International Office, according to the Crimson.

    The Trump administration has been cracking down on immigration of all kinds, and international students have been affected. The number of international students entering American schools dropped in the 2016-17 and 2017-18 school years, Reuters reported last year.

    In July, Harvard University President Lawrence S. Bacow wrote to the U.S. secretaries of state and homeland security to convey "deep concern over growing uncertainty and anxiety around issues involving international students and scholars."

    Foreign faculty, students and researchers are essential to Harvard, he said, but they have been increasingly reporting delays and denials in getting visas.

    Beacow wrote, "the visa and immigration process is in­creasingly unpredictable and uncertain. This poses risks not just to the individuals caught up in it, but also to the entirety of our academic enterprise."

    The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, an advocacy group for student and faculty members' rights in American higher education, has spoken out against federal policies about imimgration officials reviewing international academics' social media.

    If the actions Ajjawi described to the Crimson are true, they "represent a threat to academic freedom, one that should be taken seriously by those who care about protecting expressive freedoms in the United States," FIRE staffer Sarah McLaughlin said in a statement.