U.S. Deports Iranian Student With Valid Visa, Despite Judge’s Ruling

The removal raises renewed concerns that Iranian students are being targeted amid increased U.S. tensions with Tehran.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection on Monday deported an Iranian student planning to study at Northeastern University, despite a court order that he be allowed to remain in the country while his case was considered by a federal judge.

Shahab Dehghani, 24, arrived at Boston’s Logan International Airport on Sunday night with a student visa, the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts said Tuesday. He was planning to study economics at Northeastern, but was detained by customs officials and questioned for hours before CBP revoked his visa.

Dehghani’s friends gathered at the Boston airport to demand he be allowed into the country. His lawyers filed an emergency lawsuit asking the courts to postpone his removal until a federal judge could hear his case. The request was granted for 48 hours and a detention hearing was scheduled for Tuesday, but just minutes later Dehghani was on a flight back to Iran.

“We awoke to the news that CBP had deported Shahab, putting him on an Air France flight despite the judge’s order,” Carol Rose, executive director of ACLU Massachusetts, wrote Tuesday. “I wish I could say we were surprised, but we’ve seen this kind of flagrant defiance of the law from immigration officials before.”

A government official familiar with the case told The New York Times customs officers had found evidence that Dehghani had immediate family members linked to a company subject to U.S. sanctions.

But Dehghani’s attorneys expressed doubt about the allegations, noting it took nearly a year for his student visa to be approved as part of a rigorous vetting process.

“I find it really hard to believe that something that obvious slipped by the Department of State for a year,” Kerry Doyle, one of Dehghani’s attorneys, told the Times. Doyle later said she felt “the Iranian community has been unfortunately targeted.”

“We’re hearing many reports, especially at the Boston port of entry, of Iranian students and other individuals being subjected to increased and severe interrogation at secondary inspections,” Doyle told reporters after a hearing Tuesday, MassLive reported.

A federal judge said Tuesday that Dehghani’s case is now “moot” because he was never admitted to the United States and is no longer in custody.

The ACLU lambasted what it said was the Trump administration’s “recent targeting of Iranians and Iranian Americans” after tensions between Washington and Tehran escalated following the president’s order to assassinate one of Iran’s senior military figures. Iran retaliated by firing a barrage of missiles at air bases in Iraq that house American troops, although the conflict has eased in recent weeks.

Fears remain high, however, that Iranian students are being targeted for their heritage despite holding legal visas. At least 10 Iranian students have been removed from the country since August and have had their visas canceled. The Guardian reported that some have been banned from traveling to the United States for years.

“In America, nobody is above the law — including Customs and Border Protection officials,” Rose said in a statement. “Given the Trump administration’s xenophobic policies and CBP’s troubling practice at Logan Airport of sending students with valid visas back to Iran, it is shameful that the government defied a federal court order and deported Shahab without due process.”