Harvard Freshman, 17, Detained at Airport, Deported to Lebanon After Being Questioned for Hours

The Palestinian student says he was detained for hours, then deported.
The student said he was detained for hours at Boston's Logan International Airport. Getty

An incoming Harvard University freshman says he was blocked from entering the United States and ultimately deported after being questioned for hours about his religious beliefs and online comments made by his friends.

Ismail Ajjawi, 17, says he was detained at Boston's Logan International Airport and his cellphone and laptop were confiscated by immigration officials. The Palestinian refugee had been awarded an undergraduate scholarship to the prestigious college by Amideast, a nonprofit U.S. group.

A statement from U.S. Customs and Border Protection said Ajjawi was "deemed inadmissable to the U.S. based on information discovered during the CBP inspection. CBP is responsible for ensuring the safety and admissibility of the goods and people entering the U.S."

Ajjawi, a Palestinian refugee who had been living in Lebanon, said he was interrogated for five hours and told by a screaming immigration officer that a search of his phone had found postings by his social friends that espoused political views in opposition to the U.S., the Harvard Crimson reported.

In an email sent to the campus newspaper, Ajjawi said he told airport authorities the posts did not belong to him and that he should not be held responsible for the opinions of others.

The teen is now in Lebanon and trying to rectify his situation through lawyers with Harvard and the nonprofit group. 

"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," said college spokesperson Jason Newton. 

Classes are scheduled to begin Sept. 3.

In July, Harvard President Laurence Bacow wrote a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, expressing "deep concern" over delays and denials of student visas to foreign citizens.

Ajjawi's visa was revoked, the teen said, before he was put on a plane and deported.

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