Lawmakers seek answers on deported Iranian student

Kennedy raises issue of racial, ethnic profiling

SEVERAL MEMBERS of the Massachusetts congressional delegation wrote letters to federal immigration officials on Thursday seeking answers on why Iranian student Mohammad Shahab Dehghani Hossein Abadi was deported as he returned to Boston this week to study at Northeastern University.

US Reps. Joe Kennedy III and Ayanna Pressley along with Sens. Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren asked acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan about other instances where people with valid student visas had been deported from Boston’s Logan Airport as well as similar cases at other US airports.

Kennedy, who is accusing border patrol of targeting those of Iranian descent, wants the number of students with valid visas who have been deported by border patrol, and details on the basis for those removals. He also asked whether the agency told Abadi of the charges against him.

“Reports suggesting students who lawfully arrive at our country’s borders in furtherance of their education are being denied on the basis of extreme racial or ethnic profiling are deeply offensive and demand our urgent attention,” Kennedy wrote in his letter.

“Distressingly, this is not the first time CBP has denied entry to foreign nationals in direct violation of the law,” Warren, Pressley, and Markey wrote in a joint letter. “At minimum, we would expect CBP to have since recognized that it is not above the law and cannot defy a federal court order.”

Several other students including a second at Northeastern, one at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, another incoming at Iowa State University, and a Harvard Divinity School student have all been turned away.

A CBP spokesman said the agency “will reply directly to the letter,” in reference to Markey, Warren and Pressley’s letter. They have asked for a reply by Feb. 6. There has been no word on whether CBP will reply to Kennedy’s inquiries.

An anonymous Department of Homeland Security official has told a handful of news outlets that the Border Patrol officials at Logan Airport denied Abadi entry into the country because they believe his family has ties to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which is listed as a terrorist group by the government.

Pressley, Warren, and Markey said in their letter that federal immigration agents alleged no specific connection to any designated terrorist organization to Dehghani himself.

Legal representatives for Abadi, noting the Dehghani and Abadi names are common Iranian surnames, say any mix-up with the Revolutionary Guard is a case of mistaken identity. “These claims are a shameful attempt to redirect attention from US Customs and Border Protection’s troubling behavior and the Trump administration’s xenophobic policies,” said attorney Susan Church.

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Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

Church questioned why the federal government would have issued Abadi a student visa following an extensive background check and vetting process if the claims are true.

Abadi arrived at Logan International Airport on Sunday night to begin his spring semester at Northeastern after spending a year back home in Iran renewing his visa and visiting family. He was detained for secondary questioning by agents, and told he would be denied entry. A judge issued an emergency stay of removal Monday night at 9:28 p.m., which would have allowed Abadi to remain in the country for 48 hours as his case was assessed by a district court judge. Instead, he was deported on a 9:56 p.m. flight to Paris in violation of that order, as border officials were aware of the stay, according to his attorney.

Border Patrol says that it retains the right to revoke entry to the US of anyone issued entry through the visa waiver program. A spokesman said Abadi was “deemed inadmissible and processed for expedited removal and return to his place of departure.”