Palestinian Freshman Previously Barred Entry into US Arrives at Harvard

Updated: May 13

Harvard freshman Ismail B. Ajjawi, 23, who United States border officials turned away thirteen days ago, arrived on campus Monday in time for the start of classes Tuesday.


Ismail Ajjawi will be part of Harvard's Class of 2023. (photo credit: ABEER NOUF/UNRWA)

Ajjawi’s family issued a statement Monday through his lawyer thanking those who voiced support for him and assisted his arrival.


On August 26, 2019, a 17-year-old Palestinian Harvard freshman was denied entry into the United States after immigration officers questioned him for hours before cancelling his visa, according to the Harvard University newspaper, The Crimson.


Ismail B. Ajjawi, a resident of Lebanon, said in an interview that he was held in the Boston airport for eight hours until he was sent back to Lebanon. During these eight hours, he was subjected to interrogations and had his laptop and cellphone searched for five hours before being challenged regarding friends’ social media posts that the officials deemed anti-American.


“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 told The Crimson. “I have no single post on my timeline discussing politics.”


The immigration officer finally decided to cancel Ajjawi’s visa, and he was denied entry into the country.


US Customs and Border Protection said in a statement that Ajjawi had been “deemed inadmissible to the United States.” Citing the following privacy requirements, the statement did not, however, elaborate on what had rendered Ajjawi “inadmissible”:

Applicants must demonstrate they are admissible into the US 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.

Ajjawi, grew up in a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon and made headlines in his country at just 14 for receiving one of the highest scores on his primary school exams, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times. He had been granted a full scholarship to Harvard. He is planning to study chemical and physical biology with the goal of becoming a surgeon.


Harvard and AMIDEAST, the nonprofit organization that awarded Ajjawi his scholarship, are both working to assist the student to enter the country.


This is not the first time Harvard has had to intervene with immigration officials on behalf of its students. According to the Crimson, in 2017, following President Trump’s immigration ban, four graduate students were prevented from returning to Harvard because of the ban. Six major higher education groups, among them the American Council on Education and the Association of American Universities, wrote to the State Department opposing the rule on submitting social media information in visa applications, which had not yet taken effect, calling it “vague and ill-defined.”


Endangered Scholars Worldwide is relieved by this news and believes that preventing people from entering the country due to social media activities shows an astounding disregard for the principle of free speech. We believe that denying students’ entrance based on hollow accusations will cause disproportionate harm to the United States’ higher education system.

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