- Getty Images/Joe Raedle
- Ten days after a Palestinian Harvard University student was denied entry into the United States, immigration officials have reversed course and granted him entry in time for the start of the fall semester.
- The student, 17-year-old Ismail B. Ajjawi, was denied entry after nearly eight hours of interrogation in which immigration officers allegedly forced the student to unlock his phone and laptop and asked him about his religion.
- Ajjawi alleges the immigration officers looked through his contacts and found friends who wrote posts critical of the United States.
- A CBP spokesperson confirmed to Insider that Ajjawi had “overcame all grounds of inadmissibility.”
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Just over a week has passed since a prospective Palestinian Harvard University student was denied entry into the US and had his visa student canceled.
Now, with help from nonprofits, the US embassy in Beirut, and Harvard administrators, the student has arrived on Harvard’s campus just in time for the first day of the fall semester.
The reversal comes ten days after US Customs and Border Protection detained the student, 17-year-old Ismail B. Ajjawi, shortly after he exited his plane at Boston Logan International Airport. According to The Harvard Crimson, Ajjawi flew in from Lebanon and was questioned for hours by US immigration officers, which included fielding questions about his religion. Ajjawi told the Crimson he was forced to unlock his phone and laptop. The immigration officials then reportedly went on to search through his contacts and social media accounts.
After five hours of rummaging, an immigration officer allegedly told Ajjawi she had found posts from some of his friends who were, “posting political points of view that oppose the US.” CBP then canceled Ajjawi’s visa and denied him entry.
CBP grants admission but will not say why Ajjawi was denied entry in the first place
In a statement provided to Insider last week, CBP said they had deemed Ajjawi, “inadmissible to the United States based on information discovered during the CBP inspection.”
That’s changed. In a statement provided to Insider on Tuesday morning, a CBP spokesperson said Ajjawi, “overcame all grounds of inadmissibility,” and entered the US on an F-1 student visa.
- Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
The agency did not respond to Insider’s requests for comment asking for clarification on why Ajjawi was originally denied entry but said applicants must, “overcome all grounds of inadmissibility.” CBP said Ajjawi was denied entry specifically because of information discovered during his inspection at the airport.
Harvard administrators, student activists, and outside groups rally together to support Ajjawi
When Ajjawi was originally denied entry, Harvard University spokesperson spokesman Jason Newton told Insider that the school was working closely with the student’s family and authorities to make sure he could enter the US in time for the start of the fall semester.
On Monday afternoon, The Harvard Crimson confirmed Ajjawi had arrived on campus and was preparing to start classes the next day. Harvard University did not respond to Insider’s request for comment on the methods they used to help Ajjawi obtain entry into the US.
Ajjawi’s lawyer, Albert Mokhiber, thanked Harvard, The US embassy in Beirut, and the nonprofit group AMIDEAST for their help in making sure Ajjawi could enter the US in time for his first days of class.
Ajjawi’s case stirred outrage throughout Harvard’s student body.
“The actions of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection were arbitrary and completely reprehensible,” the advocacy group Act on a Dream said in a petition supporting Ajjawi. “Ismail’s only ‘crime’ was seeking an education at one of the world’s leading institutes of higher education. Putting aside valid concerns over freedom of speech, Ismail should not be punished for the political opinions of his peers.”
- Getty Images/Scott Eisen
“We are pleased that Ismail’s Harvard dream will come true after all,” Theodore Kattouf, the nonprofit’s CEO told CNN. “Ismail is a bright young man whose hard work, intelligence and drive enabled him to overcome the challenges that Palestinian refugee youth continue to face in order to earn a scholarship.”
Ajjawi’s family was similarly relieved. In their statement provided to The Harvard Crimson, the Ajjawi family acknowledged the numerous individuals needed to push their son though in time for classes
“We truly appreciate the efforts of so many individuals and officials in Lebanon, Washington, Massachusetts and at Harvard that have made it possible for our son Ismail Ajjawi to begin his studies at Harvard with his class,” his family said.