Recent Harvard Student’s U.S. Entry Denial Raises Concerns for Universities Nationwide

Despite Ismail B. Ajjawi having a valid student visa, the incoming Harvard University freshman was denied entry to the U.S. on Aug. 23 when he attempted to fly to Massachusetts for the beginning of the school year. He believes that his entry was denied because of a friend’s social media post criticizing the U.S. Although the nature of the post was not disclosed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials, Ajjawi believes that the long scrutiny and questioning over his social media connections and their posts caused him to be determined “inadmissible” by CBP standards.

“I have no single post on my timeline discussing politics,” Ajjawi said to the Harvard Crimson, Harvard’s student newspaper. Despite this, Ajjawi’s visa was revoked, and instead of settling in at Harvard as planned, he was sent back to Lebanon. However, the Harvard community and countless others on social media outlets rallied around Ajjawi and managed to leverage outrage at the situation to finally get him on campus on Sept. 3, just in time for classes. 

Ajjawi’s situation raises concern for all universities, but particularly does for USF, considering San Francisco’s large immigrant population. According to a 2016 Pew Research center study, the San Francisco metro area is home to approximately 240,000 undocumented immigrants, and the city was listed as one of the 10 major cities targeted for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids this summer. 

ICE enforcement actions are generally prohibited in school areas due to the longstanding ICE Sensitive Location Policy, which discourages enforcement actions, such as arrests and stops, taking place at locations like public demonstrations, centers of worship, or civil and religious events, except under extenuating circumstances. However, according to the Bipartisan Policy Center, ICE does have the right to operate and enforce in public spaces like bus stops, transit centers, courthouses, and airports if in collaboration with local authorities. This means that their presence on campuses, although highly unlikely, is possible. 

Senior Director of Public Safety Daniel Lawson told the Foghorn that as a private university, USF has jurisdiction over who is allowed on campus, including ICE officers. Current policy states that Public Safety shall escort any ICE personnel off USF property, even if they have an administrative ICE warrant. However, if ICE obtains a judicial warrant signed by a U.S. federal judge, Public Safety officers are then legally obligated to abide by ICE requests.

Lawson notes that throughout any interactions with an ICE officer, a student may ask if they are being detained or if they are free to go. If they are not free to go, they are legally allowed to remain silent under the fifth amendment, and they are not obligated to sign any documents or answer any questions. The students should also request the presence of a lawyer, a right also guaranteed under the fifth amendment.

If they are not free to go, they are legally allowed to remain silent under the fifth amendment, and they are not obligated to sign any documents or answer any questions.

Daniel Lawson

There has been no history of ICE presence on campus for enforcement reasons, according to Lawson. However, there have been off-campus instances of UC Berkeley students along with students from other Bay Area institutions being detained by ICE officers. 

University officials have taken their stance to protect their students. In an email, USF President Paul J. Fitzgerald said, “We stand in unwavering support of all of our students, including international and [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)] students, who are an integral part of our academic community. As I’ve stated in the past, USF will use every legal means to protect our students.”

Resources for undocumented USF students include: Counseling and Psychological Services, the Immigration and Deportation Defense Clinic, the Undocu-Student and Staff Peer Network, University Ministry, and the Task Force to Support Undocumented Students.


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