An Iranian student was turned away from Boston’s Logan International Airport on Monday despite a federal court order that he be allowed to remain in the United States, one of a growing number of cases of international students blocked from entering the country amid heightened diplomatic tensions with Iran.
Shahab Dehghani, 24, who was planning to study economics at Northeastern University, arrived in Boston on Sunday night with a valid student visa but was held at the airport overnight for questioning and put back on a plane to Iran the next evening, according to his lawyers.
Dehghani had previously spent two years studying at the University of Massachusetts, but had returned to Iran in 2018 to spend time with his family, his lawyers said.
Members of the Iranian American community in Boston, including university students and professors, along with immigrant rights advocates and lawyers, gathered to protest at the airport, chanting, “Students’ dreams matter,” while Dehghani was questioned by Customs and Border Protection officers.
The case also drew quick attention from politicians, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the Democratic presidential candidate, who called on Twitter for a halt to Dehghani’s deportation.
Airport immigration authorities eventually determined that Dehghani was inadmissible. He was scheduled to depart back to Iran on a plane that was to leave at 7:30 p.m. Eastern time, but was delayed. His lawyers quickly filed a petition in federal court to postpone his removal, and the petition was granted at 9:27 p.m., according to federal records. But the plane left with Dehghani on it seven minutes later, according to the FlightStats aviation monitoring website.
At least 11 Iranians have been similarly blocked from entering the United States since August despite valid visas to study here, according to interviews with the students and their lawyers, who say the delays have been devastating to their personal and professional lives.
Some of the visas took months to be processed, and many students already had spent their entire savings, or taken out loans, to pay for plane tickets, entrance exams and university applications. Some who have been returned to Iran received paperwork from the U.S. government, shared with The New York Times, stating they will not be allowed to enter the United States for at least five years.
One student said he was held overnight in an immigration detention facility in Georgia before being deported.
The majority of the students who were turned away arrived at Boston Logan International Airport, while others flew into Atlanta, Chicago and Los Angeles. Immigration lawyers in the Boston area say they are working on even more cases, but some of their clients are wary of speaking to the news media, for fear that it could jeopardize their chances of obtaining visas to study in places like Canada or Europe.
Though Dehghani had already been sent back to Iran, despite the court order issued by Judge Allison D. Burroughs on Monday night, his lawyers appeared at an emergency hearing Tuesday morning. The case was quickly dismissed, however. Judge Richard G. Stearns, who heard the case Tuesday morning, determined it was moot — Dehghani was already en route back to Iran.
Customs and Border Protection officials declined to comment on the specifics of his case, but in a statement, the agency said that even after immigrants are granted visas to enter 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.”
“We’re very outraged,” said Kerry Doyle, one of several lawyers who represented Dehghani in court. Immigrants like him, she said, “don’t have a lot of rights, but they do have a few, and we would argue government behavior is still subject to some constitutional scrutiny.”