Students, Visas, & Social Media in the 21st Century
Imagine you have worked for years towards a goal and are finally about to reach it when suddenly it’s blocked.
That was the case for Ismail Ajjawi, a Palestinian student raised a refugee in Lebanon who received a full scholarship to Harvard. Just a few weeks ago in August, Ajjawi attempted to enter the United States for his first semester at school when he was denied entry at the border, even with his F-1 student visa. Ajjawi’s situation made headlines all over the nation because he was flown back to Lebanon after being interrogated for eight hours about his friends’ social media postings. Fortunately for Ajjawi, he had a second interview at the embassy in Lebanon, and was cleared to fly back to the United States in time for classes.
Just two weeks ago, a group of nine Arizona State University (ASU) students from China were denied entry at Los Angeles Airport (LAX) on August 22. ASU officials said that the students were academically eligible to return to school and the United States under their visas. Unlike Ajjawi’s case, the reason for the students’ denied entry was not apparent. Also unlike Ajjawi’s case, the nine ASU students were returning students who had already been studying in the United States. There appear to be new policy changes which have colleges concerned about the increased workload needed to help their international students navigate the bureaucratic immigration system, as the statistics show that international student enrollment is dropping. Of the institutions polled, 83% cited the delay or denial of student visas as a factor contributing to the decline.
Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents have always had the ability to deny entry to a legal visa holder, but the method CBP used to deny entry in Ajjawi’s case was especially worrisome. Ajjawi’s initial entry was refused based not on his social media posts, but on his friends’ posts.
According to Ajjawi, he had not posted anything political regarding the United States, but some of his friends had posted opposing views on the United States. None of those political posts were on Ajjawi’s timeline, and he had neither ‘liked’ nor commented on any of the posts. The agent found him simply guilty by association.
This incident raises an entirely new set of 21st century questions about what it means for people to have social media accounts. Should people be responsible for knowing what each of their friends are posting, and if so, should those posts affect someone else’s entry into the United States?