CBP Accused of Acting 'Above the Law' After Forcing Iranian Student With Visa to Board Flight Back Home, Despite Emergency Stay

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection(CBP) agency is facing backlash after it was revealed the agency had refused entry to an Iranian student with a valid visa and forced him on a flight back home, despite a judge issuing an emergency stay of removal.

Mohammad Shahab Dehghani Hossein, 24, was coming to the U.S. to prepare for the start of the spring semester at Northeastern University when he was stopped by CBP officers at the Boston Logan International Airport on Sunday, according to his lawyers. As Newsweek reported earlier this week, he was ultimately refused entry to the country, despite having a valid visa.

Susan Church, an attorney assisting Dehghani, said the 24-year-old had been granted an emergency stay of removal from Massachusetts District Court Judge Allison D. Burroughs while Dehghani was still at the Boston airport.

The order demanded that Dehghani's removal be stayed for 48 hours or until further order of the court, while a hearing for the 24-year-old was arranged for Tuesday morning.

In video published online, protesters who had raced to the airport to demand that the student be allowed to enter the country could be seen cheering after they heard the stay of removal had been granted.

However, they were later dismayed to learn that Dehghani had been put on a plane back home without their knowledge, despite the judge's emergency order.

In a statement sent to CNN, CBP said it was "unaware of the issuance of any court order barring the removal of the subject from the United States" when Dehghani had boarded the flight.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Massachusetts has claimed that since August 2019, at least 10 students have been sent back to Iran upon arriving at U.S. airports. Seven of those students, the ACLU branch said, had flown into Logan airport. Newsweek has contacted CBP for more information.

In a statement shared with Newsweek, Carol Rose, the executive director at the ACLU of Massachusetts, said: "In America, nobody is above the law—including Customs and Border Protection officials."

"Given the Trump administration's xenophobic policies and CBP's troubling practice at Logan Airport of sending students with valid visas back to Iran, it is shameful that the government defied a federal court order and deported Shahab without due process," Rose said, adding: "We are looking at all options to hold CBP accountable for wrongfully deporting Iranians and other students who hold valid visas."

In a statement shared with Newsweek, Cornell University Law School professor Stephen Yale-Loehr said he was disturbed to hear not only about Dehghani's story, but also of reports of dozens of Iranian Americans claiming to have been detained and questioned at a border crossing in Washington state recently.

Yale-Loehr said he had heard of multiple cases of Iranian students being turned away at airports since August, amid tensions between the U.S. and Iran. "And earlier this month, many U.S. citizens of Iranian descent were questioned for hours trying to return to the United States from Canada," the professor said.

The Cornell professor said the incidents raised concerns that the U.S. might be "doomed to repeat past mistakes."

"For example, we now realize that interning U.S. citizens of Japanese descent during World War II was a mistake. Congress even passed a law in 1988 apologizing for the internments and making reparations," he said. "Similarly, detaining people of Muslim descent after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and making them go through special registration procedures failed to yield any significant results in finding and deterring other terrorists."

"As Benjamin Franklin once said: 'Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety,'" Yale-Loehr asserted.

In Dehghani's case, it is still unclear why he was turned away at Boston airport.

In a statement sent to Newsweek on Tuesday, CBP said the agency was "not at liberty to discuss an individual's processing due to the Privacy Act."

"CBP officers are charged with enforcing not only immigration and customs laws, but they also enforce over 400 laws for 40 other agencies and have stopped thousands of violators of U.S. law," the spokesperson said.

"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."

It is unclear, however, whether any of those examples might apply to Dehghani's case.

If the 24-year-old did have a visa, Yale-Loehr suggested Americans should be asking questions as to why he was denied entry into the U.S.

Boston airport
An aircraft takes off as other aircraft are parked at Logan Airport on January 31, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency is facing backlash after allegedly barring an Iranian student from entering the U.S., despite him having a valid visa and a judge issuing a stay of removal. JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP/Getty

"The U.S. State Department already thoroughly vets all applicants before issuing visas," the professor said. "There is no need for immigration inspectors to deny entry to people with proper visas simply because they are from Iran. These actions needlessly increase tensions with Iran."

While there is no evidence that CBP denied Dehghani entry because he is Iranian, the recent incidents at U.S. ports of entry come at a time of heightened tensions with Iran following the U.S. assassination of Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani and Iran's missile attack on bases in Iraq in response to the killing.

Earlier this month, Iran also admitted to having shot down a Ukrainian passenger jet, killing all 176 passengers and crew onboard the flight, after mistaking the aircraft for a potential threat. The country said it had been at its "highest level of readiness" amid high tensions with the U.S.

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