Last night, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) deported an Iranian student with a valid visa, despite a federal court order prohibiting his removal.
Shahab Dehghani arrived at Boston Logan Airport on Sunday, January 19 to study at Northeastern University, where he was enrolled. Customs officials detained him and questioned him for hours, abruptly revoking his student visa, which the State Department granted after a year of intense vetting.
As CBP tried to put Shahab on the next available flight, supporters and friends gathered at night in the arrivals hall at Logan to demand that CBP stop deporting students with valid visas while attorneys filed an emergency lawsuit to halt his removal.
Within hours, a federal judge ordered that Shahab’s deportation be delayed for 48 hours, pending a hearing scheduled for the following morning. The crowd’s chants of “Students’ dreams matter!” and “Do the right thing!” dissolved into cheers as we heard the news, and we went home with hope in our hearts that Shahab would receive due process.
Sadly, we were mistaken. We awoke to the news that CBP had deported Shahab, putting him on an Air France flight despite the judge’s order. I wish I could say we were surprised, but we’ve seen this kind of flagrant defiance of the law from immigration officials before. In 2017, CBP sowed chaos by enforcing President Trump’s unlawful Muslim ban, flaunting court orders and deporting travelers at will. Last night, as we waited eagerly for news of Shahab’s fate, I was reminded of the heroic efforts of those ACLU lawyers who worked relentlessly in 2017 to ensure that Muslim travelers could avail of their constitutional rights.
The Trump administration’s recent targeting of Iranians and Iranian Americans is shameful, and CBP must be held accountable for its actions. Shahab is only the most recent victim — according to one report, at least 10 Iranian students with valid visas have been sent back since August 2019, with over seven of those travelling through Boston’s Logan Airport.
When dozens of Iranian Americans were unlawfully detained at a border crossing in Washington state, the ACLU made it clear: Military action abroad does not justify discrimination at home. Iranians and Iranian Americans have rights, and we will not stand by while CBP and other government agencies inflict their arbitrary and cruel policies without the slightest regard for the rule of law.
Students deserve to follow their dreams. Many of the people turned away by our government were admitted to some of the most prestigious higher education institutions in the country. These are some of the best and brightest, and their presence here enriches us all. Even after they’re admitted to schools, Iranian students endure months of intense scrutiny and spend large sums to apply for visas. To upend their lives and their future careers so cruelly at the last minute does more than dehumanize them — it dehumanizes us. It says to the world that we are not a welcoming nation, but a mean and capricious one, and that our laws are nothing but pretexts for wanton discrimination.
Since Shahab has already been removed, a federal judge today ruled the case moot. But, in the United States, nobody is above the law — not even CBP. We will continue to fight in legislatures, in courtrooms, and on the streets to defend against the whims of a racist administration, and to hold CPB and other immigration agencies accountable for their deplorable and illegal behavior.
Carol Rose, Executive Director, ACLU of Massachusetts