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Bacow Reiterates Immigration Stance Following Arrival of Harvard Freshman Ismail Ajjawi

President Lawrence S. Bacow speaks at the 2018 Freshman Convocation.
President Lawrence S. Bacow speaks at the 2018 Freshman Convocation. By Timothy R. O'Meara
By Alexandra A. Chaidez and Aidan F. Ryan, Crimson Staff Writers

After Harvard freshman Ismail B. Ajjawi ’23 was denied entry into the United States after traveling from Lebanon, University President Lawrence S. Bacow doubled down on his opposition to current U.S. immigration policies.

In an email to Harvard affiliates Tuesday that coincided with the first day of classes, Bacow highlighted his own family’s immigrant background and his concern for new policies that have made it difficult for some international students to attend the University. He also discussed how Trump administration policies favor wealthier and often more educated immigrants.

“Since May, the obstacles facing individuals ensnared in the nation’s visa and immigration process have only grown,” Bacow wrote. “Various international students and scholars eager to establish lives here on our campus find themselves the subject of scrutiny and suspicion in the name of national security, and they are reconsidering the value of joining our community in the face of disruptions and delays.”

Bacow’s parents came to the United States as Jewish Holocaust refugees around the time of World War II.

Ajjawi wrote in a statement to The Crimson last week that U.S. immigration officials canceled his visa after interrogating him for hours at Boston Logan International Airport. The 17-year-old freshman also wrote that an official left during questioning to search his phone and laptop.

“After the 5 hours ended, she called me into a room, and she started screaming at me. She said that she found people posting political points of view that oppose the US on my friend[s] list,” Ajjawi wrote at the time.

The State Department declined to comment on Ajjawi’s case and a U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesperson wrote that CBP found Ajjawi “inadmissible” to the country.

Ajjawi arrived on campus Monday in time for the start of classes after efforts from University administrators and AMIDEAST, an organization funding his study at Harvard.

With Ajjawi’s story attracting national attention, Bacow used the opportunity to reiterate his opposition to the immigration policies of President Donald Trump’s administration.

In addition to the letter, Bacow spoke to National Public Radio Tuesday about his concerns with the current policies and his lobbying efforts in Washington, D.C. He said that as of his interview with NPR, he had spoken to 54 members of Congress one-on-one about issues of immigration.

Bacow also said students from colleges and universities beyond Harvard have faced similar issues when trying to enter the country.

“I think it's important to understand that our nation's academic institutions are in many ways magnets for the best and the brightest from around the world,” Bacow said in the NPR interview. “And we all benefit for the opportunity for students and scholars to come study and work here.”

Bacow noted during the interview that the presidents of Harvard, MIT, Princeton University, and Stanford University are all immigrants or children of immigrants.

In July, Bacow penned a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Acting U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin K. McAleenan to share his “deep concern” about uncertainty over the current immigration policies.

“Students report difficulties getting initial visas—from delays to denials,” Bacow wrote in the July letter. “Scholars have experienced postponements and disruptions for what have previously been routine immigration processes such as family visas, renewals of status, or clearance for international travel.”

Bacow also mentioned that Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and Temporary Protected Status recipients at Harvard are vulnerable under the Trump administration’s current policies. DACA recipiemts — also known as Dreamers — are undocumented youth allowed to legally live in and work in the U.S. under the Obama-era initiative, while Tempory Protected Status is a program that gives legal protection to immigrants from countries.

Less than a week after he wrote the letter, Bacow met with several lawmakers — including members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation — during a trip to Washington, D.C., where he discussed some of the concerns raised in the letter, according to University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain.

Bacow’s predecessor, former University President Drew G. Faust, spent the last months of her tenure meeting with lawmakers to voice her support for immigration reform. A vocal advocate for undocumented students, Faust appeared on national television, penned letters to House and Senate leaders, and signed onto letters calling for protections for immigrants.

Bacow concluded his letter Tuesday by calling on Harvard affiliates to uphold the University’s values, even though difficult times.

“We must devote ourselves to the work of illuminating the world through word and deed, and we must continue to affirm and safeguard the values that underlie the finest traditions of this extraordinary nation, especially in turbulent times,” Bacow said.

—Staff writer Alexandra A. Chaidez can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @a_achaidez.

—Staff writer Aidan F. Ryan can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @AidanRyanNH.

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