It seems an incoming freshman was admissible to Harvard, but not the U.S. due to posts on his friend’s social media. How about that?

An incoming Harvard freshman, Ismail B. Ajjawi, 17, landed at Logan International Airport in Boston on Friday, and was turned back by a Customs and Border Protection agent after roughly eight hours of questioning due to posts on his friend’s social media pages. He stated, “I have no single post on my timeline discussing politics.”

According to The Harvard Crimson, a State Department official declined to comment specifically on Ajjawi’s case, as visa records are confidential under U.S. law. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) spokesperson, Michael S. McCarthy, wrote in an emailed statement that the CBP found Ajjawi “inadmissible” to the country.

“Applicants must demonstrate they are admissible into the U.S. 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,” McCarthy wrote.

“This individual was deemed inadmissible to the United States based on information discovered during the CBP inspection.”

Ajjawi wrote that he spent eight hours in Boston before he was required to leave. Upon arrival in the United States, Ajjawi faced questioning from immigration officials along with several other international students. While the other students were allowed to leave, Ajjawi alleges an immigration officer continued to question him about his religion and religious practices in Lebanon.

The same officer then asked him to unlock his phone and laptop, and left to search them for roughly five hours, Ajjawi alleges. After the search, the officer questioned him about his friend’s social media activity.

“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,” he wrote. “After the five hours ended, she called me into a room , and she started screaming at me. She said that she found people posting political points of view that oppose the U.S. on my friend[s] list.”

Ajjawi wrote that he told the officer he had not made any political posts and that he should not be held responsible for others’ posts. tweet

“I responded that I have no business with such posts and that I didn’t like, [s]hare or comment on them and told her that I shouldn’t be held responsible for what others post,” he wrote. “I have no single post on my timeline discussing politics.”

Big Brother Is Behaving in an Unconstitutional Manner

The New York Times article on the incident discusses the issue of free speech in reference to the incident, stating that it has prompted “furor” amongst free-speech advocates.  In fact, the ongoing issue of self-censorship remains a huge issue in the current climate of Islamophobia. We are all well aware that the government has a high degree of access to our every move and keystroke due to modern technology.

Just to revisit, the First Amendment states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

Note the words, nothing can be done to prohibit the free exercise of free speech or abridge the freedom of speech.

The Fourth Amendment states, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Note the right to protection against unreasonable search and seizures, as well as the need for a warrant, supported by probably cause.

These rights are also guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Freedom of speech is protected in Article 19 which states, ”Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

The right to privacy is protected in Article 12 which states, “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honor and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.”

It is further disturbing that Mr. Ajjawi was not even attacked for his own views or posts, but for posts by people who he is connected to on social media. This sets a dangerous precedent in the US. tweet

Additionally, these types of issues were highlighted in a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The Harvard Crimson reports, “University President Lawrence S. Bacow also waded into the national debate over immigration policy earlier this year. In July, he penned a letter to United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and acting United States Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin K. McAleenan to share his “deep concern” about the federal government’s approach to immigration policy. Bacow’s letter specifically cited visa challenges Harvard affiliates like Ajjawi face, in the form of both delays and denials.”

The incredible fact of this situation is that Mr. Ajjawi did not even do anything himself.  He merely had some connections on social media who expressed views that the particular customs agent found objectionable.

The issue of how to manage to avoid being targeted by the government for views expressed privately or publicly, and the ongoing issue of the self-censorship that many Muslims are engaging in currently continues to be a central topic of conversation, both within academia and outside of academia. tweet

Questions about how we can even think when we are afraid to brainstorm on a laptop because our IP Address is monitored, when we know certain words in an email can trigger investigations into our lives, when we know our cell phone conversations, our emails, our texts, everything we do is monitored and recorded by the government without a warrant, or any notification to us.

But this concept, that an incoming student at Harvard University, a school well-known for monitoring its students’ behavior on social media, can be blocked from entering the country based on social media posts on other people’s accounts is a whole new level of attack, censorship, and erosion of human rights. Well, maybe not.  Maybe that is just me being asleep, white, and privileged when people of color and minorities have suffered so much oppression. But to me, this situation is new for a Harvard student. I have never heard of anything like it before.

So, What Can Be Done?

It is my sincere hope that the public outcry does not stop at the point the Mr. Ajjawi is allowed to attend classes, a goal for which he has said he continues to hope (Mr. Ajjawi has said that he hopes to be able to enter the country in time for classes to start on September 3). It is my hope that people of good conscience, people doing work for the protection of free speech, people working to protect our civil rights take this up as a legal matter that is more significant than just getting Mr. Ajjawi re-admitted to the country.

Inshallah, a legal organization can fight this case so that this dangerous, disturbing precedent is pushed back against as vigorously as possible, including in the legal system. Regardless of whether or not this happens, we all need to continue to speak out, and stand up for all of our rights.

You can also follow Sarah Huxtable Mohr on Twitter and Instagram!

Image courtesy of @harvard/Instagram
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