Harvard student denied entry to the US to attend college

By Jake Dipaola

Elm Staff Writer

In late August of this year, Ismail Ajjawi attempted to enter the United States on a visa to study at Harvard  University and denied entry.

Upon his arrival at the airport, he was detained, searched, and then deemed inadmissible to enter the country just over a week before classes were scheduled to start.

The 17-year-old Palestinian student from Lebanon, a country at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea, bordered by Syria and Israel, was detained by Customs and Border Protection agents when he landed in Boston Logan International Airport on an F-1 student visa.

During his eight hours of detainment, Ajjawi’s laptop and phone were confiscated for agents to search through contacts and social media accounts.

Individuals on an F-1 visa and any “baggage and merchandise arriving in the Customs territory of the United States from places outside thereof are liable to inspection by a CBP officer,” according to the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection official websites.

It was under this authority that Ajjawi’s laptop and personal belongings were searched.

“After the five hours ended, [the CBP officer] 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,” Ajjawi said in an interview with Time.

According to Ajjawi, he should not be judged by the words of his peers. He added that he did not even like or comment on any of the political posts in question.

However, Ajjawi’s denial of entry was because he did not “overcome all grounds of inadmissibility,” according to a CBP spokesperson in an interview with Time.

The Travel Ban was put into effect January 2017 and officially put into action in June 2018. Since then, students’ studies at American colleges and secondary schools have become increasingly difficult.

This travel ban is more heavily restrictive to certain countries considered to require a restriction of immigration to the United States.

These countries include locations like Syria and Israel, the two countries bordering Lebanon, Ajjawi’s country of residence.

Many groups were outraged, and some were spurred to action.

Harvard tweeted in response to this event on Aug. 27: “regarding our student who was refused entry to the U.S., Harvard 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.”

AMIDEAST is a non-profit organization whose mission statement “is to create hope, opportunity, and mutual understanding among people in the Middle East, North Africa, and the United States through life-changing opportunities for education and cultural exchanges,” according to their main website.

Their goal is to give education opportunities to those who have none, and to bridge the gap between cultural differences in the business world.

Additionally, AMIDEAST came to Ajjawi’s aid and in their combined efforts with the Harvard University, were able to get him back to the U.S. and ready to start classes at the university.

Individuals who are granted a visa are not guaranteed entrance into the United States.

The visa only grants the individual the opportunity to travel to the United States and request permission to stay. This is why some are denied entry upon arrival because they were deemed inadmissible.

   Two Washington College students from the class of 2023 were denied their visas this August as well. The F-1 visa, granted for foreign students, limits visits to the United States.

Under this Travel Ban, CBP officers are cracking down on visa denials and restricting students from beginning their college education.

Ajjawi was able to make it to the start of classes at Harvard, however the fates of the two prospective students were not so lucky.

Moving forward, these restrictions and issues that prospective students face when entering the U.S. could mean a heavy decrease in international students looking to pursue a higher education from the United States.

With the removal of these opportunities, these students will have to look elsewhere to countries with less restrictive policies on students with F-1 visas and even the interruption of students’ studies and the idle of their education on the grounds that their visa may not exceed two years.

Additionally, lesser-known universities and colleges may take a bigger hit than the eastern shore, by seeing a decrease in student diversity.

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