Harvard freshman denied entry to US over social media posts starts classes

(FILE PHOTO by video screenshot)

A Palestinian teen who was denied entry into the U.S. late last month over his friends’ social media posts has since been allowed into the states to study at Harvard University.

“Ismail Ajjawi has been able to enter the United States in time to begin his undergraduate program at Harvard University on the generous scholarship that this institution awarded him in recognition of his stellar academic qualifications,” the nonprofit Amideast announced in a press release Monday.

“Ismail arrived at Boston Logan International Airport this afternoon, was admitted, and is now in Cambridge.”

Cambridge, Massachusetts is home to Harvard University, where Palestinian teen Ismail Ajjawi, 17, is reportedly planning to pursue a degree in the school’s Chemical and Physical Biology program.

His education is being funded by Amideast via its Hope Fund Scholarship, which “enables underserved Palestinian youth, many from refugee backgrounds, to benefit from an undergraduate education in the United States.”

Ajjawi originally made headline news in late August when he was detained by immigration officials at Boston Logan International Airport, subjected to hours of interrogation and forced to hand over his phone and computer so they could be searched.

While examining his property, the officials found anti-American social media posts from his online friends and then allegedly yelled at him about them.

“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 later wrote in a written statement shared with The Harvard Crimson. “I have no single post on my timeline discussing politics.”

He was also reportedly questioned about his religious beliefs.

“While the other students were allowed to leave, Ajjawi alleges an immigration officer continued to question him about his religion and religious practices in Lebanon,” the Crimson noted.

After reportedly at least five hours of questioning Ajjawi, the officials revoked his Visa, told him to be prepare to be deported and allowed him to make a quick phone call to his parents.

As the story went viral, it attracted widespread outrage and scorn — much of it inexplicably aimed at President Donald Trump:

What investigative reporter Sara A. Carter wrote in the latter tweet was at least half right.

“The U.S. government quietly began requesting that select foreign visitors provide their Facebook, Twitter and other social media accounts upon arriving in the country, a move designed to spot potential terrorist threats that drew months of opposition from tech giants and privacy hawks alike,” Politico reported in December of 2016, a month before Trump took office.

What’s unclear is whether a similar policy had been active during former President George W. Bush’s administration as well.

Nevertheless, after Ajjawi’s deportation, U.S. Customs and Border Protection issued a statement saying he’d failed to overcome “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.”

But in an updated statement to CNN issued on Monday, CBP confirmed that the teen has since “overcame all grounds of inadmissibility and was admitted into the United States as a student on a F1 visa.”

While it remains unclear how exactly the case was resolved, in its own press release Amideast thanked a number of parties for their assistance, including Harvard officials, the U.S. Embassy in Beirut and even the media.

“Many individuals and institutions played a hand in this outcome,” the release reads. “Our special thanks go to President Bacow and other Harvard officials for their efforts to ensure that this young man was able to enter the Class of 2023 with his peers.”

“We also wish to acknowledge and thank the U.S. Embassy in Beirut for reviewing his bona fides and reissuing him a visa, enabling him to arrive in time for the start of classes.”

“In addition, we express our gratitude to the many voices in the media and the public at large, both in the United States and abroad, who recognized the injustice of what happened to Ismail and voiced their concerns in traditional media and on social media.”

Vivek Saxena

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