A Palestinian student at Harvard University has been denied entry into the US by immigration officials who found social media posts by his friends criticising the country.
Ismail Ajjawi was told by an immigration officer that she “found people posting political points of view that oppose the US” in his social media contacts.
Mr Ajjawi was then sent back to Lebanon after five hours of questioning at the airport, The Harvard Crimson reported.
Ajjawi told the university newspaper that his phone and laptop were searched, after which the officer “started screaming” at him.
He also alleged that an immigration officer continued to question him about his religion and religious practices in Lebanon.
“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 said. “I have no single post on my timeline discussing politics.”
Jonathan Swain, a spokesperson for Harvard, wrote in an email that university officials are currently working to resolve the matter before classes begin.
Officials of US government agencies have declined to comment as visa records are confidential under US law.
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
– Michael S McCarthy
Michael McCarthy, a spokesperson for US Customs and Border Protection, clarified: “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,” he added.
Although The Harvard Crimson reported that similar cases to Ajjawi’s are rare, university officials have stated that the frequency of extended visa checks on international students have increased under the Trump administration.
Student processing fees and scholar visas have risen markedly within the past few years alongside a slower application process for international students, according to The New York Times.
President Lawrence Bacow wrote to Mike Pompeo, the Secretary of State, to share his “deep concern” about the federal government’s approach to immigration policy and highlight the visa challenges foreign students face.
A spokesperson for the State Department spoke last Wednesday concerning visa delays and said that international students were a priority. They added that the government was “committed to providing the highest quality service to legitimate travellers”.
Update (03/09/19): Ismail Ajjawi has now been admitted entry to the US in time to start at Harvard.
He was admitted on Monday 2 September. His family released a statement in which they said they were relieved at the change in decision.
They said: “The last ten days have been difficult and anxiety filled, but we are most grateful for the thousands of messages of support”.
They hope that now Mr Ajjawi’s can “simply focus on settling into College and his important class work”.
The Customs and Border Protection (CBP) told the BBC the day after Mr Ajjawi admission that he had overcome “all grounds of inadmissibility and was admitted into the United States as a student on a F1 visa”.