[Marxism] Harvard Student Says He Was Barred From U.S. Over His Friends’ Social Media Posts
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Wed Aug 28 09:08:00 MDT 2019
NY Times, Aug. 28, 2019
Harvard Student Says He Was Barred From U.S. Over His Friends’ Social
By Karen Zraick and Mihir Zaveri
A Palestinian student from Lebanon who was set to begin his freshman
year at Harvard was denied entry to the United States after immigration
officials objected to his friends’ social media posts, he said this
week, prompting furor among free-speech advocates.
The student, Ismail B. Ajjawi, 17, landed at Logan International Airport
in Boston on Friday, and was turned back by a Customs and Border
Protection agent, according to an account he gave The Harvard Crimson, a
Mr. Ajjawi, a resident of Tyre, Lebanon, said in the account that his
phone and laptop were searched and that he was questioned at the airport
about his friends’ social media activity. He wrote that an agent had
yelled at him and “said she found people posting political points of
view that oppose the U.S. on my friend list.”
He told the agent that he should not be held responsible for others’
posts, the statement said.
“I responded that I have no business with such posts and that I didn’t
like, share or comment on them and told her that I shouldn’t be held
responsible for what others post,” he wrote.
He added, “I have no single post on my timeline discussing politics.”
Mr. Ajjawi told The Crimson that his visa was then canceled and that he
was sent back to Lebanon. Classes at Harvard are set to begin Sept. 3.
Michael S. McCarthy, a spokesman for Customs and Border Protection, said
he could not comment on the specifics of Mr. Ajjawi’s case because of
“This individual was deemed inadmissible to the United States based on
information discovered during the CBP inspection,” the agency said in a
The statement noted that foreign visitors must “demonstrate they are
admissible into the U.S. 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.”
Mr. McCarthy noted that Mr. Ajjawi could reapply for a visa.
Reached through an intermediary, Mr. Ajjawi declined to comment and
referred questions about his case to his lawyer, Albert Mokhiber. Mr.
Mokhiber did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.
The action that Mr. Ajjawi said was taken against him was widely
criticized by free-speech advocates, who argued that denying a student
the chance to begin classes at one of the world’s foremost universities
over social media posts written by other people, as Mr. Ajjawi contended
had occurred, was unfair and alarming.
They said Mr. Ajjawi’s case highlighted the potential dangers of a
policy announced by the Trump administration last year that nearly all
applicants for a visa to enter the United States would be asked to
submit their social media user names for the past five years.
Sarah McLaughlin, the director of targeted advocacy for the Foundation
for Individual Rights in Education, said that there had been “numerous
recent accusations that U.S. immigration officials are denying visas on
the basis of political viewpoints.”
“Ajjawi’s allegations, if accurate, represent a threat to academic
freedom, one that should be taken seriously by those who care about
protecting expressive freedoms in the United States,” she said.
Summer Lopez, senior director of Free Expression Programs at PEN
America, said in a statement that “preventing people from entering the
country because their friends critiqued the U.S. on social media shows
an astounding disregard for the principle of free speech.”
Carrie DeCell, a lawyer on staff at the Knight First Amendment Institute
at Columbia University, said in a statement that the case underscored
the problems with giving the government broad authority to trawl through
“The chilling effects of incidents like these ripple through communities
far beyond Harvard’s incoming freshman class, resulting in widespread
self-censorship on social media and threatening intellectual freedom,”
In a statement, Harvard said that it 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.”
In a video posted last week on the Facebook page of Al Araby, a
London-based Arabic broadcaster, Mr. Ajjawi said in an interview that he
wanted to pursue a career in medicine. He said that his acceptance to
Harvard “shows that Palestinians can succeed and excel despite all the
pressure on them.”
Last month, the university president, Lawrence S. Bacow, wrote a letter
to Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, and Kevin McAleenan, the acting
secretary of Homeland Security, expressing concern about the student
visa process. He noted the crucial role that students, faculty and
researchers from across the globe play in the university’s work.
“Increasingly, visa delays are making these scholars’ attendance and
engagement in the university unpredictable and anxiety-ridden,” he
wrote. “Students report difficulties getting initial visas — from delays
to denials. Scholars have experienced postponements and disruptions for
what have previously been routine immigration processes such as family
visas, renewals of status, or clearance for international travel.”
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