The case of a Harvard international student, Ismail B. Ajjawi, being detained, interrogated and denied entry into the United States stunned many last week. As a university where 10.3% of the student population is international, this is an issue we cannot afford to ignore.
International students around the country are left afraid and confused, many worrying about going home for the holidays if it means they might be held and questioned when reentering the United States.
When Ajjawi, a Palestinian from Tyre, Lebanon, arrived in Boston, he was interrogated by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers for hours. The officers proceeded to search his phone and laptop, according to a statement Ajjawi provided to the Harvard Crimson. Ajjawi was among several other international students who were also questioned by immigration officers.
Ajjawi stated that he was not only questioned about his religion and religious practices, but also interrogated regarding the social media posts of his friends. While Ajjawi had not posted anything political himself, the immigration officers interrogated him about his friends’ posts that had “political points of view that oppose the U.S,” Ajjawi alleged.
Ajjawi was able to enter the United States 10 days after having his visa revoked, with the help of lawyers, Harvard staff and AMIDEAST, the scholarship organization who is sponsoring his education, according to the Harvard Crimson.
Nevertheless, this case is an example of what is becoming a more common reality for international students in the United States, as reported by the New York Times. As more students from countries around the world find themselves being denied student visas or experiencing longer delays in receiving visas than ever before, we must consider what this means for a democratic America, which was founded on the ideals of free speech and freedom of expression.
Our university prides itself on the encouragement of learning for all, and it would be a great loss if we were not to have as high of an international student population as we currently do. International students bring unique perspectives and strengths to institutions of higher education. Unfortunately, the current U.S. administration makes the potential of a growing and blossoming international student population unsustainable.
Furthermore, these heightened security checks, especially in the case of Ajjawi being questioned about his friends’ social media posts, lead us to question whether we can be held accountable for the actions and words of those surrounding us.
It is a troubling time for international students, who now have to consider not only what they post on social media when it comes to politics, but also whether they should remain friends on social media with those who post political messages that might be critical of the current administration in the United States.
While it is hard to know how to protect our international student population, we know that we cannot and will not be bystanders as Americans, immigrants and international students alike are silenced and suppressed by the current administration. The Loyolan will continue to report on issues concerning international students and advocate for their rights, especially when they are unable to do so themselves.