An Iranian student who planned to attend Northeastern University but was flown out of the United States Monday night on the order of immigration officials is the latest in a growing number of students from Iran who have recently been denied entry at Logan Airport, according to lawyers and Boston-area colleges.
Mohammad Shahab Dehghani Hossein Abadi, a 24-year-old undergraduate student, had been detained by Customs and Border Protection at Logan after arriving Sunday. Dehghani Hossein Abadi’s lawyers filed an emergency petition to block his removal Monday night, and Judge Allison D. Burroughs ordered a 48-hour stay.
But before a hearing took place, Dehghani Hossein Abadi was flown to France — in defiance of the judge’s order.
Kerry Doyle, one of Dehghani Hossein Abadi’s lawyers, called his removal “an outrage.”
At the scheduled hearing Tuesday morning, Judge Richard Stearns said the case was now moot, since the student was already out of the country.
“There seems to be some history of CBP ignoring district court orders, which should concern the court,” Doyle said during the hearing. She asked that Dehghani Hossein Abadi be returned to the United States, but the judge said there was little he could do to compel immigration officials now that the student was gone.
“I do not think I have the authority to do that,” Stearns said.
Dehghani Hossein Abadi is one of at least three Iranian students barred from attending Boston-area schools since September. One of the students hoped to attend Harvard, and another was in the middle of earning an advanced degree at Northeastern. Nationwide, at least 11 Iranian students have been turned away since August at airports across the country despite having valid visas, according to the New York Times.
It was not immediately clear why the Dehghani Hossein Abadi was sent away after the emergency order was issued. According to his attorneys, Burroughs issued her order at 9:27 p.m. Monday, and the Air France flight carrying Dehghani Hossein Abadi to Paris took off soon after 10 p.m. He was not able to speak with his lawyers before he left the country.
Department of Homeland Security officials said that Dehghani Hossein Abadi was the last passenger to board the flight and that the government didn’t have the court order at that time.
Customs and Border Protection have wide latitude at ports of entry, such as airports, and there are many reasons a non-US citizen can be denied entry, according to immigration experts. In Dehghani Hossein Abadi’s case, customs officials indicated to his lawyers that he had been blocked because he intended to overstay his student visa.
Customs and Border Protection officials said on Tuesday that he was a candidate for expedited removal and ordered him on the Air France flight out of Logan.
But Doyle denied that he planned to remain in the United States longterm, noting that he has no family here.
Dehghani Hossein Abadi’s family owns a private construction and export company in Iran, Doyle said. The company has no connection to the Iranian government or any “nefarious” ties. She also noted that he had received his student visa to come to the United States after a long vetting process and the US government would have likely flagged any concerns about Dehghani Hossein Abadi, his family, or any potential problematic activities then.
The Times, quoting an unnamed government official, said officers at the airport had found evidence that Dehghani Hossein Abadi had family members affiliated with a company that had been subject to U.S. government sanctions for providing weapons to Hezbollah. The Muslim organization is considered a terrorist group by the U.S.
Customs officials said Tuesday that applicants, “must demonstrate they are admissible into the US by overcoming all grounds of inadmissibility including health-related grounds, criminality, security reasons, public charge, labor certification, illegal entrants and immigration violations, documentation requirements, and miscellaneous grounds.”
But immigration lawyers said they are seeing more cases of customs officials at Logan Airport turning back Iranian students.
The refusal to admit the students comes amid deteriorating US-Iran relations.
US service members were injured after an Iranian attack on an airbase in Iraq this month — retaliation for the US killing of Iranian Major General Qasem Soleimani.
There were 12,140 Iranian students studying at US colleges and universities during the 2018-19 school year.
“This is not an isolated incident,” said Susan Church, an immigration lawyer, who is representing Dehghani Hossein Abadi and others. “This is a pattern of misbehavior by this administration who lacks respect for the rule of law and lacks respect for the individuals here who are coming here to attend school and get a degree and further their knowledge.”
In mid-September, Reihana Emami Arandi, 35, a Harvard Divinity School student, was denied entry to the United States after nine hours of questioning by customs officials.
In October, Mohammad Moradi, who was getting his doctoral degree in electrical engineering at Northeastern, was turned away at Logan upon returning from Paris after presenting a paper at a conference there.
Moradi had traveled back and forth to Canada to visit an uncle who is a Christian minister there in the months before without any problems, but he was stopped at Logan, said his attorney Laura Murray-Tjan.
Emami Arandi said she received little information about why she was turned away, except a suggestion that she wanted to stay in the United States, not simply study here.
Emani Arandi said she was eager to earn her religious studies master’s at Harvard and had turned down other programs and quit her engineering job before she came to the United States.
But when she got to Logan, she was treated as “suspect not like a student.” In addition to questions about her travel and work history, customs officials also asked her about the Quran she was carrying and political questions, such as what she thought about the recent explosion of oil fields in Saudi Arabia. When she went to the bathroom, two female government officials accompanied her, Emani Arandi said.
She was also not allowed to call Harvard for assistance, she said.
“I couldn’t imagine such a thing could happen to me,” said Emani Arandi, who is back in Iran and has asked a US district court judge to review the customs decision. “I couldn’t imagine unfair behavior would happen to somebody who is coming to study.”
Northeastern University officials said they are trying to get a better understanding of how customs officials are determining when to block the US entry of students with valid visas.
“It’s unclear if this is a new policy or what is happening,” said Jigisha Patel, an assistant general counsel at Northeastern. For students to get a valid visa and then within a week of traveling be turned away for reasons that aren’t clear is upsetting, Patel said.
“It causes a lot of stress and a lot of anxiety, and it’s not something that should be happening,” Patel said.
Carol Rose, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, said with so many colleges and universities in the Boston area, these immigration issues are worrisome.
“Think of the implications of this on a center of education like Massachusetts,” Rose said. International students are unlikely to want to study here. “This is bad for our economy.”
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correct a quotation from Judge Richard Stearns.