Palestinian Harvard student who had been denied entry to U.S. is admitted

In this Aug. 13, 2019 file photo, students walk near the Widener Library in Harvard Yard at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. Copyright Charles Krupa AP
Copyright Charles Krupa AP
By Phil Helsel with NBC News U.S. News
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Ismail Ajjawi, who is attending Harvard on a scholarship, has arrived on campus in time for the first day of classes.


A 17-year-old Palestinian and incoming Harvard freshman who was denied entry to the United States late last month has been allowed in to the U.S. and arrived in Cambridge in time to begin classes when they start Tuesday, his family and a nonprofit organization said.

Last month, Ismail Ajjawi was questioned by immigration officials for hours at Logan International Airport and denied entry to the U.S., the student and a university spokesman said last week.

Ajjawi flew into Boston on Saturday afternoon and was granted entry, according to his family and nonprofit organization AMIDEAST.

"The last 10 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 student's family said in a statement from their lawyer to The Harvard Crimson, the college newspaper.

When he attempted to enter the U.S. in August, Ajjawi, who is Palestinian and lives in Lebanon, was allegedly asked about his religious practices and to unlock his phone and laptop, according to the statement cited by The Crimson last week.

When an immigration officer returned with the student's phone and laptop about five hours later, he was questioned about his friends' social media activity, according to the statement.

Customs and Border Protection told NBC News last week that Ajjawi was deemed inadmissible to the U.S. "based on information discovered during the CBP inspection."

At that time, CBP said it could not release specific information about individual travelers because of privacy act requirements and law enforcement purposes. If the agency deems someone as inadmissible to the U.S., it has the authority to cancel a person's visa.

A spokesperson for the agency on Monday night said that they were looking into the situation.

Ajjawi is attending Harvard on a scholarship.

He said in a statement distributed by AMIDEAST before his initial trip to the U.S. that he plans to study chemical and physical biology. "Thank you for making such a dream attainable," the student said.

"We are pleased that Ismail's Harvard dream will come true after all. Ismail is a bright young man whose hard work, intelligence and drive enabled him to overcome the challenges that Palestinian refugee youth continue to face in order to earn a scholarship," AMIDEAST President and CEO Theodore Kattouf said in the statement.

In July, Harvard President Lawrence Bacow wrote a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan expressing concerns about students having difficulties obtaining visas, including delays and denials.

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