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Freshman Previously Denied Entry to the United States Arrives at Harvard

University Hall
University Hall in Harvard Yard.

Harvard freshman Ismail B. Ajjawi ’23, who United States border officials turned away ten days ago, arrived on campus Monday in time for the start of classes Tuesday.

Ajjawi’s family issued a statement Monday through his lawyer thanking those who voiced support for him and assisted his arrival.

“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,” the statement reads. “We hope now that everyone can respect our and Ismail’s privacy and he can now simply focus on settling into College and his important class work.”

Immigration officers barred Ajjawi from entering the United States after he spent eight hours in Boston Logan International Airport on Aug. 23. Ajjawi, a 17-year-old resident of Tyre, Lebanon told The Crimson last week that a Customs and Border Protection officer searched his phone and laptop while he was detained at the airport.

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Ajjawi alleged that officer questioned him for hours about posts his friends made on social media and eventually informed him that his visa would be canceled. The officer also allegedly asked him questions about his religious practices in Lebanon.

Shortly after Ajjawi returned to Lebanon, Customs and Border Protection spokesperson Michael S. McCarthy wrote in a statement that officials had “deemed [him] inadmissible.” McCarthy did not specify the reason for the decision.

Ajjawi’s immigration difficulties sparked outcry from Harvard student groups, several of which organized a petition supporting him that has garnered more than 7,000 signatures as of Monday night. Ajjawi's story has also drawn international media attention and elicited statements of support from several organizations including the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

Staff from both Harvard and AMIDEAST, a scholarship organization sponsoring Ajjawi’s education, worked with federal officials to ensure he could matriculate on time.

University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain wrote in a statement last week that Harvard was working to bring Ajjawi to campus before classes begin Sept. 3.

“The University is 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,” he wrote.

The Ajjawi family’s statement acknowledged the groups that advocated for their son, both in Lebanon and in the United States.

“We truly appreciate the efforts of so many individuals and officials in Lebanon, Washington, Massachusetts and at Harvard that have made it possible for our son Ismail Ajjawi to begin his studies at Harvard with his class,” they wrote.

—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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