Two Iranian students attending Boston-area universities have filed complaints with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, saying federal officials at Boston’s Logan International Airport acted illegally in denying them entry to the U.S. to start classes.
Shahab Dehghani, who attends Northeastern University, and Reihana Emami Arandi, who had been set to start classes at Harvard University, filed separate complaints with the agency’s civil rights office in recent days, requesting the agency investigate the conduct of Customs and Border Protection officials, according to their lawyers.
The students say federal officials detained and interrogated them for hours at the airport before concluding they planned on staying in the country longer than their temporary visas allowed.
The students maintain they had no intention of overstaying their visas and that federal officials provided no proof supporting their conclusion.
Arandi and Dehghani are among at least ten Iranians denied entry into the U.S. since August. Seven of those had flown into Boston’s airport.
Spokespeople for Homeland Security didn’t respond to an email seeking comment. Customs and Border Protection declined to comment.
In a complaint filed Monday, Dehghani’s lawyers argue he was admitted to the U.S. three times in recent years to study in Boston and that his most recent student visa was issued after nearly a year of vetting by the State Department.
The 23-year-old economics and math student, whose full name is Mohammad Shahab Dehghani Hossein Abadi, was also prevented from communicating with his attorneys during questioning and subjected to a “threatening and uncivil interrogation” that focused on his religious and political beliefs, according to the complaint.
Federal officials purposely ignored an emergency court order temporarily staying his removal until the case could be heard in court and forced him to board a flight bound for Paris, Dehghani’s lawyers argue.
“This entire situation is unacceptable and was handled in an utterly unprofessional manner,” the complaint concludes. “This behaviour by members of Customs and Border Protection cannot stand.”
Arandi, a 35-year-old incoming graduate student at Harvard’s Divinity School, said in a recently filed complaint that she was detained at Logan Airport on Sept. 18 and questioned for nearly eight hours about her work, family, travel and opinions about recent events in the Middle East.
She said officers also searched her luggage, laptop and cellphone and did not allow her to make any calls, including to Harvard’s international students’ office.
Arandi’s lawyers say officials at Logan didn’t give her the option to withdraw her petition to enter the U.S. and reapply later, meaning she’s effectively banned from entering the country for five years.
Last week, Michigan State University graduate student Alireza Esfidajani was detained for hours at Detroit Metro Airport and later at a local jail, before being sent back on a flight to Iran.
Lawyers for the 27-year-old say he was deemed inadmissible for reasons that remain unclear.
Civil rights groups say Iranians have been targeted for extra screenings and interrogations at airports ever since President Donald Trump issued a ban on travellers from several predominantly Muslim countries in 2017, including Iran.
But they say the targeting has only worsened as relations between the U.S. and Iran have deteriorated, culminating in the U.S. drone strike that killed one of Iran’s top generals last month.