A Harvard University freshman who was denied entry into the United States at Logan Airport last month has arrived on campus in time for the start of classes Tuesday.
Ismail Ajjawi, a 17-year-old Palestinian student who lives in Lebanon, had a valid visa to study in the United States but was put on a flight back home after being questioned by immigration officials at Logan. He was reportedly turned away because of political posts his friends made on social media that were critical of the United States, and the Department of Homeland Security said he was deemed inadmissible and his visa was canceled.
The decision drew immediate backlash amid widespread support for the teenager, who grew up in a refugee camp and received a Hope Fund scholarship from an international education nonprofit called Amideast. He is one of about a dozen freshman receiving the Hope Fund scholarship this year.
In a statement Monday, Ajjawi’s family said they were grateful for all the support they’ve received in Lebanon, Massachusetts, and Washington D.C.
“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,” they said. “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 Harvard Crimson first reported that Ajjawi had arrived on campus Monday.
Ajjawi previously told the Crimson that immigration officials at Logan questioned him both about the social media postings and about his own religious beliefs and practices. Officials also took his phone and laptop, Ajjawi said.
Ajjawi’s lawyer, Albert Mokhiber, said the case was “one of the most rewarding” of his 35-year career as an immigration lawyer.
“Against all odds a Palestinian refugee who attended UNRWA schools in the camps of Lebanon, earns a full scholarship to Harvard, hits a road block, but is eventually granted entry to the US to pursue his college dream,” he said. “It’s a classic sad tale with an exceptionally unique happy ending.”
Ajjawi hopes to study chemical and physical biology at Harvard, according to a statement from Amideast. He graduated in the spring from Deir Yassin High School in Lebanon, which is run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.
A spokeswoman from the agency said he scored the highest in the “life science stream” of the Lebanese baccalaureate exams in the south region and eighth highest in the country.
“Ismail Ajjawi is obviously an extremely talented and determined student and young man, who, despite all odds, has gained a place in one of the most prestigious universities in the world,” said Dr. Caroline Pontefract, the agency’s director of education. “[Ajjawi] is a beacon of hope for hundreds of thousands of UNRWA students.”
Amideast leaders thanked Harvard President Lawrence Bacow and other university officials “for their efforts to ensure that this young man was able to enter the Class of 2023 with his peers.”
Bacow and other university leaders have written federal authorities to voice their concerns about delays in processing student visas, as well as some denials.
The US embassy in Beirut had reviewed Ajjawi’s case and reissued him a visa, according to Amideast.
“We are pleased that Ismail’s Harvard dream will come true after all,” said Amideast president Theodore Kattouf. “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.”