Palestinian Harvard Student Denied Entry to the US

By Elias Khoury, ADC Summer 2019 Intern


Just this week, immigration officials denied entry to Harvard enrollee Ismail Ajjawi, a Palestinian refugee from Lebanon, supposedly due to content that his friends posted on social media. This comes as a result of the sitting administration’s cruel and backwards regime of racist immigration enforcement. So far, both the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security have held steadfast in their cowardice and are yet to comment on this.

A resident of Tyre, Lebanon, Ajjawi has always excelled in his schooling, eventually earning a scholarship from AMIDEAST to study at one of America’s most selective institutions of higher learning. In an interview with London-based broadcaster Al-Araby, Ismail voiced his desire to pursue a career in medicine and “[show] that Palestinians can succeed and excel despite all the pressure on them.”

According to Ajjawi, after being detained in the airport along with several other international students, he was harassed and berated by immigration officials, then ordered to hand over all of his electronics as they were to undergo a warrantless search. After going through his phone and computer for hours on-end, officers returned to the room in which Ajjawi was being held and began screaming and yelling at him. They then proceeded to inform him that his visa was being revoked due to posts by his friends on social media that opposed the policies of the Trump administration in one way or another.

The takeaways from this incident are three-fold. For one, it exposes that any commitment the Trump administration has to freedom of speech is anything but ideological. The fact that someone could legally be held responsible for the Facebook posts of acquaintances that they did not even “Like” or comment on is a gross transgression against the spirit of the First Amendment. Such a transgression against one of American democracy’s most important principles is unsurprising given Trump’s history of conditional disdain for the freedom of expression when it comes to those who oppose him or his policies.

The denial of entry to Ismail Ajjawi is yet another example of this administration’s anti-Arab bias and hatred. In concert with a myriad of other anti-Arab efforts, immigration processing has been made notoriously hard for people coming from the Arab World in recent times. It becomes even more egregious when you consider that so many of these people are fleeing some of the worst horrors imaginable. On top of that, the U.S. immigration process is already arguably the longest and most stringent of all countries.

The horrid mistreatment of Ismail Ajjawi also exposes that any rhetoric coming from the White House claiming to want highly-educated immigrants is a farce. Denying entry to a Harvard Student is irrefutable proof of this, as he is an immigrant who was accepted into a university that is lauded as one of the most prestigious in the world. It has now become clear that those empty claims were crafted with the intent to demonstrate that the administration’s hatred for immigrants does, in fact, know bounds. More and more, we can easily see through Trump’s cheap charade.

Ajjawi has a team in place that is currently working on securing his ability to return to the United States so that he can begin his undergraduate studies at Harvard. Hopefully they are successful. They are certainly up against a lot, but I pray that they come out on top in their struggle.

Scroll to Top