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Palestinian Harvard Student Arrives On Campus After Initially Denied Entry Into U.S.

A Palestinian student from Lebanon began classes at Harvard University on Tuesday after immigration officials initially barred him from entering the U.S. last month.

Incoming freshman Ismail B. Ajjawi, 17, had been deported back to Lebanon shortly after arriving at Boston Logan International Airport on Aug. 23 ahead of the fall semester at the elite Cambridge, Massachusetts, school.

Ajjawi said U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents detained him for several hours at the airport, where they searched his laptop and phone and questioned him about his religious practices and his friends’ social media posts. 

An immigration official “called me into a room, and she started screaming at me,” Ajjawi wrote in a statement to The Harvard Crimson. “She said that she found people posting political points of view that oppose the US on my friend[s] list.”

Ajjawi, a resident of the coastal Lebanese city of Tyre, told the immigration agents that he hadn’t liked, shared or commented on the posts in question and shouldn’t be held responsible for other people’s views, according to his statement to the Crimson. 

Still, CBP officials revoked Ajjawi’s visa and sent him back to Lebanon. A CBP spokesman declined to provide details about his case, but said at the time that the student was “deemed inadmissible to the United States based on information discovered during the CBP inspection.”

Several organizations, including AMIDEAST, a nonprofit that awarded Ajjawi a scholarship to attend Harvard, as well as Harvard and the U.S. Embassy in Beirut helped Ajjawi successfully gain reentry to the U.S. on Monday.

In a statement to CNN, CBP confirmed that Ajjawi “overcame all grounds of inadmissibility and was admitted into the United States as a student on a F1 visa.” The agency did not provide additional details about the case’s resolution.

Ajjawi’s attorney, Albert Mokhiber, praised the “amazing efforts” that resulted in his client’s reentry, calling the case “one of the most rewarding.”

“Against all odds, a Palestinian refugee who attended [United Nations] schools in the camps of Lebanon earns a full scholarship to @Harvard, hits a road block, but is eventually granted entry to the US to pursue his educational dream,” Mokhiber tweeted. “It’s a classic sad tale with an exceptionally unique happy ending.” 

The student’s family members said they hope Ajjawi, who plans to study physical and chemical biology, “can now simply focus on settling into College and his important class work.”

“The last ten days have been difficult and anxiety filled, but we are most grateful for the thousands of messages of support and particularly the work of AMIDEAST,” according to their statement.

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. 

Ajjawi’s case unfolded roughly a month after Harvard President Lawrence Bacow wrote a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressing his “deep concern over growing uncertainty and anxiety” regarding students’ reported difficulties obtaining visas or having their entry delayed or denied.

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