Palestinian student makes it to Harvard after initial US refusal

Washington: A Palestinian teenager has succeeded in entering the United States and starting classes Tuesday at Harvard University after US authorities’ initial refusal to let him enter at the airport triggered wide condemnation.

Amideast, a Washington-based group that supports international education, said Ismail Ajjawi arrived Monday at Boston’s Logan International Airport and made it safely to Harvard for Tuesday’s start of the academic term.

“We are pleased that Ismail’s Harvard dream will come true after all,” said Theodore Kattouf, the group’s president and CEO.

“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,” he said.

The 17-year-old based in Lebanon said he was questioned for eight hours when he flew to Boston on August 23, with an airport officer asking about his religion and searching his laptop and phone.

Ismail said that an officer “started screaming at me” about political postings on his social media pages even though they were written by his friends and not by him.

As the case gathered wide media attention, Amideast said that Harvard pressed Ismail’s case and that the US embassy in Beirut reissued a visa that allowed him to travel back to the United States.

US authorities said legal reasons prevented them from explaining why they previously barred Ismail, with the Customs and Border Protection agency only saying that he was “deemed inadmissible” during the airport check.

President Donald Trump has made a tough line on immigration a signature issue, vowing during his campaign to bar all Muslims from entering the United States and once taking office tightening restrictions on visas.

Amideast described Ismail as one of the top students in Lebanon and said he would travel two hours each way from his home in Tyre to Beirut to take part in a US-backed program for promising students.