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Harvard College Working to Confront ‘Unpredictable’ Immigration Policies, Khurana Says

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Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana said the process of ensuring international students arrive on campus has become increasingly “unpredictable” in recent years, amid changes to immigration policy under the Trump administration.

“We always have been working with our international office to bring students here. I think in recent years it's become more unpredictable, with respect to immigration and visa issues,” Khurana said in a Wednesday interview.

Harvard recently intervened in one College student’s visa re-application process after United States Customs and Border Protection detained him at Boston Logan Airport and denied him entry to the U.S. That student — Ismail B. Ajjawi ’23, a Palestinian resident of Lebanon — spent eight hours at the airport, where he was subjected to questioning about his religion and a search of his personal electronics.

Ajjawi told The Crimson a CBP officer reviewed his social media accounts for several hours before informing him that she had found anti-American posts by his Facebook friends. She then informed him his visa was canceled and that he would be denied entry into the country.

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Asked about Ajjawi’s case, Khurana said he believes an important part of his role is supporting students when they face immigration difficulties, and that he believes international students contribute greatly to Harvard and the United States.

“My primary concern is for our student and their family, and then making sure that they feel supported, that we are able to provide whatever information that is needed from us,” Khurana said. “As an immigrant myself, I believe that this country's strength comes from its continual capacity to renew itself, and that our strength is our diversity.”

During the subsequent 10-day period he spent in Lebanon, Ajjawi received an outpouring of support from Harvard affiliates and student groups. Both Harvard administrators and outside lawyers lobbied government officials, asking them to grant him a visa so he could begin classes alongside the other members of the Class of 2023.

Though Ajjawi arrived in Cambridge on Sept. 2, immigration experts said his case is representative of trends that could imperil international undergraduates in future years. Earlier this year, the State Department announced it would collect visa applicants’ social media information as part of the vetting process, among other changes.

University President Lawrence S. Bacow recently spoke out against facets of current U.S. immigration policy in an email to Harvard affiliates earlier this month. He specifically criticized immigration “disruptions and delays” that students traveling to the United States have increasingly faced. In 2017, four graduate students were temporarily denied entry to the country due to a Trump immigration order, which restricted travel from several majority-Muslim countries.

Khurana praised resources the College offers to support international students during the Wednesday interview. In particular, he cited the Freshman International Program, one of the College’s weeklong pre-orientation programs.

“My understanding is that it’s an incredibly strong student community, where [upperclassmen] who have more familiarity are very robust in terms of not only just supporting those students during that pre-orientation program, but really, my understanding is it really forms friendships that last,” he said.

Khurana said he admires students who travel thousands of miles to attend Harvard.

“These are amazing students,” he said. “The courage that it takes to come to a place that's thousands of miles from where you grew up, where your family is, and to basically open yourself up to an educational system that might be different from your domicile.”

—Staff writer Shera S. Avi-Yonah can be reached at shera.avi-yonah@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter at @saviyonah.

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

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