Student Says U.S. Immigration Denied Him Entry After Seeing Friends' Social Media Posts

The 17-year-old Palestinian student had flown into the country to begin his freshman year at Harvard.

Ismail Ajjawi, a 17-year-old student set to start school at Harvard University this week, says he was denied entry by immigration officials at a U.S. airport after they searched his computer and social media accounts and questioned him about his friends’ political posts. 

Ajjawi, who is Palestinian, told The Harvard Crimson that after arriving at Boston Logan International airport on Friday, he was held by Customs and Border Protection officers for hours for questioning before being sent back to Lebanon, where he resides. He said officers searched his phone and computer, with one officer asking him about his religion and religious practices in Lebanon as well as social media posts from people on his “friend list.” 

After five hours looking through his tech devices, the officer allegedly called Ajjawi into a room. 

“She started screaming at me. She said that she found people posting political points of view that oppose the US on my friend[s] list,” Ajjawi wrote to the Crimson. “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 ... I have no single post on my timeline discussing politics.”

A Harvard University spokesperson said the school was “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.” 

A CBP spokesperson said the agency could not release “specific information on individual travelers,” but confirmed that Ajjawi had been “deemed inadmissible to the United States based on information discovered during the CBP inspection.” The agency did not clarify if the social media posts were connected to Ajjawi being denied entry. It said anyone that was “deemed inadmissible,” as in this case, could later reapply for a visa. 

Nonprofit AMIDEAST, which awarded Ajjawi a scholarship to attend Harvard, is reportedly also providing legal support to help him gain reentry. 

In recent years, other students have been temporarily barred from entry into the U.S. as a result of President Donald Trump’s travel ban on several Muslim-majority countries. Lebanon is not one of the countries included in the ban. 

Last month, Harvard president Lawrence Bacow wrote a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan. He expressed his “deep concern over growing uncertainty and anxiety around issues involving international students,” pointing to students’ reported difficulties obtaining visas or having their entry delayed or denied.