Deported Palestinian Harvard student makes it into US in time for classes

Ismail Ajjawi’s deportation over his friends’ social media posts had sparked fierce backlash

Palestinian Harvard student Ismail Ajjawi has made it to campus just in time for the new semester, 10 days after US border officials denied him entry into the country, sending him back to Lebanon where he lived.

Ajjawi, a 17-year-old son of Palestinian refugees, was refused entry into the US to start his university education at the prestigious academic institution because of political social media posts by his friends, he said late last month.

Amideast, the non-profit that awarded Ajjawi the scholarship to attend Harvard, confirmed his arrival to the university’s campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts on Monday afternoon, expressing gratitude for the “many individuals and institutions” that helped in his return.

“We are pleased that Ismail’s Harvard dream will come true after all,” Amideast president Theodore Kattouf said in a statement.

“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.”

Ajjawi’s family also thanked those involved in getting the student into the United States to start his classes on time.

“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 family said in a statement, as reported by Harvard’s student newspaper the Crimson.

“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.”

The freshman student had said US immigration officials took his phone and laptop, and later questioned him about his friends’ social media activity after he arrived at Logan International Airport in Boston on 23 August.

The agents also asked him about his religious practices before subsequently deporting him to Lebanon.

“When I asked every time to have my phone back so I could tell them about the situation, the officer refused and told me to sit back in [my] position and not move at all,” Ajjawi wrote in a statement after his deportation, the Crimson reported.

Harvard had vowed to help get Ajjawi into the US before classes start.

“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,” Harvard spokesman Jason Newton told Middle East Eye in an email last week.


The incident garnered national media attention, sparking a fierce backlash from critics who accused Donald Trump of implementing biased immigration policies and amping up restrictions against visitors and students from Arab and Muslim countries.

On Friday, Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, who is of Palestinian descent, expressed support for the student, saying he should not be “robbed of the Harvard dream he worked so hard to achieve”.

“#IsmailAjjawi should be in the US preparing for classes right now,” she wrote on Twitter.

Other politicians, celebrities and media pundits also denounced US border agents for denying entry to the student.

In a response to a tweet by Harvard University that featured first-year students moving into campus, MSNBC journalist Lawrence O’Donnell wrote, “Except for Ismail Ajjawi who got deported by Trump.”

An online petition by Harvard students calling for Ajjawi’s re-entry into the US had received close to 8,000 signatures by Monday.

“In the wake of this administration’s racist rhetoric around migration, we seek congressional action towards the safety and security of all immigrants,” the petition read.

“Specifically, it is important to acknowledge that Palestinian refugees are one of the most targeted populations by inhumane immigration policies.”

Several advocacy groups welcomed the news of Ajjawi’s return to the US late on Monday, lauding the efforts to get him back into the country.

“We’re thrilled to see that Ismail Ajjawi, a former ⁦UNRWA student from Lebanon, has made it back to the States and has arrived safely to Harvard in time for classes to begin,” UNRWA USA said in a twitter post.

“Your resilience will serve you well through your academic career!”