US Customs and Border Protection detained and then deported an Iranian student who was returning to Boston to continue his studies at Northeastern University, despite a federal court order to delay his removal.
Mohammad Shahab Dehghani Hossein Abadi has a valid F-1 student visa, his lead attorney, Kerry Doyle, told BuzzFeed News. The 24-year-old student flew into Logan International Airport on Sunday for his spring semester. He has been working toward a bachelor of science degree in economics and mathematics, his school said.
When he landed and went through customs, officials held him for secondary questioning, which is common for Iranians trying to enter the US through the Boston airport, Doyle said.
However, CBP officials then decided to remove him from the country before he could speak to a lawyer. The agency issued an expedited removal order, arguing that Abadi had plans to stay in the US permanently and violate his visa, according to his attorneys.
"There is absolutely no evidence of that," Doyle said. "When we found out, we went beyond every effort to communicate with CBP, because there are legitimate cases where they deny entry to somebody. In the past they have been able to tell us the issue, but this time they completely stonewalled us and even lied to us."
According to court documents and his attorneys, Abadi went through a thorough, nearly yearlong vetting process with the US government to obtain his visa. He had studied at the university for two semesters, left, and then was finally approved to return last week.
The student “does not pose any threat of terrorist activity and has no criminal record in any country,” his attorneys said in a court filing. “It is unclear why [Customs and Border Protection] would now decide, after conducting a full visa issuance process, that Plaintiff’s student visa should be revoked.”
Doyle said that Abadi's legal team scrambled to try to talk with CBP, quickly filing a notice of appearance in court to formalize their role as his representative, as well as sending several letters asking CBP to reconsider his removal.
"They refused to take that notice, which is rare and a break with all our past interactions with them," she said. "Everyone was freaking out, and then the judge issued a federal stay order late last night, but CBP ignored it."
Shortly before 9:30 p.m. Monday night, a court docket shows a federal judge issued an emergency stay ruling that immigration officials should delay Abadi's removal for two days and scheduled a hearing in his case for Tuesday. However, Doyle said CBP ignored this order and the student's plane took off from Boston at 10:03 p.m. Monday night.
"It's become a pattern at the Boston port of entry for Iranians to go through extreme profiling and aggressive interrogations," the attorney said. "We are hearing more and more stories about Iranians in the Boston area being turned around. It's really concerning to us."
According to the ACLU, at least 10 students have been sent back to Iran after arriving at US airports since August 2019. Of those 10, seven had flown in through Logan Airport.
Nearly 13,000 international students are currently enrolled at Northeastern, including 139 students from Iran, according to the Office of Global Services.
The university said in a statement to BuzzFeed News that the university has been trying to get more information about their student's situation.
"Twenty-four hours after learning that our student was detained and sent back overseas, we still have not received a satisfactory explanation from Customs and Border Protection for this action," a university spokesperson said. "We believe that a clear explanation is needed, especially because the deportation took place after a 48-hour extension was granted by a federal judge. Only in the most extreme instances should students have their academic pursuits interrupted by government intervention.”
In a release published on Wednesday, Northeastern said they were still pressing for information and “have not received a satisfactory explanation from Customs and Border Protection."
“Only in the most extreme instances should students have their academic pursuits interrupted by government intervention," Renata Nyul, vice president for communications, said.
The school is also working with several top-elected officials, who have publicly decried CBP's actions and refusal to provide any specifics about the deportation.
Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey said that the immigration agency refused to answer his questions as to why they deemed Abadi a threat to enter the US.
"Customs and Border Protection did not provide me any answers for why it refused entry to Shahab Dehghani, nor did it acknowledge the alarming discrepancy in moving forward with his removal despite a Federal District Court order granting Mr. Dehghani a stay in order to review the decision of CBP," Markey said in a statement.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who sent a letter to CBP earlier this month demanding answers on reports of "dozens" of Iranians and Iranian Americans being held up at US borders, noted that the student had a "valid F1 visa."
"We must fight the Trump administration's xenophobic policies," she tweeted.
On Wednesday, CBP responded to BuzzFeed News' request for comment, saying that "the issuance of a visa or participation in the visa waiver program does not guarantee entry to the United States."
"Upon arrival at Logan Airport on Sunday, January 19, Mohammad Shahad Dehghani Hossein Abadi was deemed inadmissible and processed for expedited removal and return to his place of departure," a CBP spokesperson said.
On Tuesday, a US district judge dismissed Abadi's case, ruling that it was moot because the student had already been deported. His attorneys say they are asking the judge to reconsider given that CBP apparently ignored a federal judge's order. In court, a government attorney claimed that Abadi was removed before the judge issued the stay.
CBP also cited the judge's decision to rule the matter moot, "as the subject was never admitted into the United States, the subject is no longer in custody, and the court does not have jurisdiction to order his return.”
However, CBP has refused to give any information as to why they had deported the student so swiftly. Doyle said people online had been spreading false information about his family connections.
"There were rumors that his dad was connected to the government, and we want to quash that," she said. "Deghani is a common name and you have to have all three last names be the same for it to be the same identity. Just to have Deghani as a last name doesn't mean anything. It's a totally different name and person from another side of the country."
Although she has been unable to speak with her client since he landed in Paris early Tuesday morning, Doyle said he is confused, disheartened, and unsure of what to do next.
"This will completely blow up his schooling," she said. "It's a five-year ban to come back to the US without permission, and honestly there is no way after he had an issue with CBP that they would approve his readmission."
In response to Abadi's detention and deportation, dozens of protesters gathered at Logan International Airport on Monday and outside the courthouse Tuesday to decry his treatment and demand he be let into the country.
"Stop deporting students," they chanted.
Omar Rashed, a close friend of Abadi's, told the Boston Globe that the student had become a member of the local community and only left because he wanted to visit his family in Iran.
"[He] is a very wonderful, kind, and gentle spirit," Rashed said. "He volunteered in the community and helped out a lot with events. He was always the first one to show up and the last one to leave."
After protesting all night and then hearing the news that Abadi's case had been dismissed, Fatema Ahmad, executive director of Boston's Muslim Justice League, told BuzzFeed News that she and the Iranian community were "devastated."
"To have him be deported like this is incredibly disappointing," she said. "We aren't sure what the next steps would even be."
She also pointed out that Abadi's story may not be unique.
"This has been happening around the country since August," she said. "But I think the reason we don't hear about it is because if you are coming here for the first time, you don't have a community to mobilize to stand up for you. He knew people here, he had friends. A lot of the other ones who are coming in for the first time have no one to reach out to."