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Student Groups Petition in Support of Incoming Freshman Denied Entry to U.S.

University Hall in Harvard Yard.
University Hall in Harvard Yard. By Amy Y. Li
By Shera S. Avi-Yonah and Delano R. Franklin, Crimson Staff Writers

More than 20 Harvard student groups co-signed an online petition calling for the admission of Ismail B. Ajjawi ’23 to the United States after he was turned away by immigration officials last Friday.

The petition — posted Tuesday by student immigrant advocacy group Act on a Dream — had drawn more than 4,200 signatures by Thursday evening. Roughly twenty other student groups also signed the accompanying letter.

“Ismail deserves more than the dehumanizing practices of this country’s immigration enforcement,” the groups wrote. “He was promised an opportunity to pursue his education and deserves to be treated humanely.”

The statement also asks members of the U.S. Congress to support Ajjawi and calls on the University to continue advocating for his entry into the country.

Ajjawi told The Crimson on Monday that his time in Boston Logan Airport — and the U.S. — last Friday lasted roughly eight hours, during which a Customs and Border Patrol official searched his laptop and phone.

He wrote that the officer told him he would not be allowed into the country because of allegedly anti-American posts his friends made on social media. Ajjawi, who is Palestinian, had returned to his home in Tyre, Lebanon as of Monday evening.

The U.S. State Department declined to comment on the specifics of the case, citing privacy concerns. Customs and Border Patrol spokesperson Michael S. McCarthy wrote in a statement Tuesday that Ajjawi had been “deemed inadmissible” but did not specify a reason.

Araoluwa “Ara” P. Omotowa ’22, who serves as the political action chair for the Association of Black Harvard Women, said her organization signed on to the petition as a show of support for Ajjawi.

“That’s why we signed this petition: in order to stand in solidarity with Ismail as we’re trying to get the student back on campus,” she said.

Jeromel Dela Rosa Lara ’23, who signed the petition, said he is glad to see the effort circulating among members of the freshman class Thursday. He added that Ajjawi’s experience resonates with him personally.

“As an immigrant who came from a different country, having that experience coming to the United States and falling in love with the opportunities of getting a good education and being barred from that opportunity — that hurts,” Lara said. “I feel that what has happened to him is basically the result of xenophobia, racism, and a double standard that is placed on immigrants.”

Harvard students faced challenges similar to Ajjawi’s in 2017, when immigrant authorities turned away four graduate students as a result of a federal ban on travel from seven majority-Muslim countries. At the time, administrators noted the value international students bring in letters opposing the policy.

Kristina K. Shull, a postdoctoral student, wrote in an email that Ajjawi’s inability to arrive on campus has similarly negative consequences.

“This has grave consequences, not only for people's lives, but also for academic freedom and our quality of education,” Shull wrote.

Though the University issued a statement saying administrators are working to bring Ajjawi to campus before classes begin Tuesday, his status remains uncertain.

Omotowa said ABHW and other campus groups are preparing for possible additional activism in support of Ajjawi.

“Conversations are happening right now,” she said. “I, as well as the other black and people of color political action chairs, are discussing what we are thinking of doing for Ismail.”

—Staff writer Shera S. Avi-Yonah can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @saviyonah.

—Staff writer Delano R. Franklin can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @delanofranklin_.

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