Lawmakers, Northeastern professors press federal officials for answers in deportation of Iranian student

“This is shameful, irresponsible, and completely unacceptable.”

Mohammad Shahab Dehghani Hossein.
Mohammad Shahab Dehghani Hossein Abadi. –Handout

Massachusetts lawmakers and Northeastern professors are pressing federal officials for answers about why an Iranian student, who had been issued a visa, was deported from Boston’s Logan International Airport earlier this week. 

Mohammad Shahab Dehghani Hossein Abadi, 24, was returning to Boston on Monday to resume his education at Northeastern University when his lawyers say he was stopped by officers with Customs and Border Protection. His recently-issued visa was revoked, and he was deported back to Iran despite an emergency order from a federal judge that his removal be stayed, pending a Tuesday morning court hearing. 

Senators Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren and Congresswoman Ayana Pressley wrote in a Thursday letter to the acting commissioner of CBP that they are concerned by what they called a “pattern” of the agency targeting Iranian students for a secondary inspection at ports of entry, and  “deeply troubled” by Dehghani’s removal in what they said was an “apparent refusal to comply with an emergency federal court order.”

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According to The Guardian, since last August at least 10 students who were issued visas — seven of whom had flown into Logan —  have been sent back to Iran after their arrival at U.S. airports.

“Though this pattern of behavior in itself demands answers, we also write to request an explanation for CBP’s outrageous actions in the case of Mr. Dehghani,” the Massachusetts politicians wrote. “… Mr. Dehghani’s attorney’s filed an emergency petition in federal court in Boston to prevent his departure. But despite CBP’s knowledge of the court’s pending adjudication of this petition, CBP proceeded with his removal and required Mr. Dehghani to board a return flight to Paris.”

The emergency stay was granted at 9:28 p.m., the lawmakers pointed out, and the information was conveyed to CBP officials. 

“Nevertheless, CBP officials did not remove Mr. Dehghani from the plane, despite allegedly assuring his lawyers that officials had done so at approximately 9:30 p.m.,” the letter reads. “CBP officials confirmed to Senator Markey that the plane departed for Paris at 9:56 p.m. — nearly half an hour after the court issued its emergency order and in complete violation of its mandate. This is shameful, irresponsible, and completely unacceptable.”

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In a Thursday op-ed in the Boston Globe, Dehghani’s attorneys, Susan Church, Kerry Doyle, and Heather Yountz, wrote that they were told by CBP officials that they would “see our client ‘soon.’” 

“That was untrue,” they wrote. “Did CBP know about the judge’s order? We believe they did. The federal court has emergency habeas procedures in place, including e-mail notification of petitions filed and any orders a judge enters, including a stay of removal, as was issued here. Shahab’s flight left 30 minutes after the order was issued.”

An unnamed official told the Globe that Dehghani’s visa was revoked because it was believed that the student’s immediate family had links to a transport company that had been sanctioned by the United States for its alleged support of Hezbollah.

Church told the Globe that the allegations against the 24-year-old are “absolutely false” and customs officials have falsely accused her client to justify their decision to block him from entering the United States. 

“They’re lying to you guys about what happened and trying to distract from their own bad behavior,” she told the newspaper.  

In the letter to CBP, Pressley, Warren, and Markey said that the allegations “do not explain why Mr. Dehghani — who previously underwent background vetting and security checks — was granted a visa if he posed a threat to the United States.”

“Nor do these allegations justify deporting Mr. Dehghani in violation of a stay of removal from a federal judge,” they wrote. 

According to the Globe, when Dehghani’s visa was revoked, custom officials placed a five-year ban on his return to the U.S.

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Dehghani was due to continue his study of economics at Northeastern, where he had transferred from UMass Boston. He had already been studying in the U.S. for two years when he returned to Iran to visit family, where he reapplied for a student visa that took a year to obtain, his lawyers have said. 

Also on Thursday, almost 100 professors signed a letter, addressed to the heads of CBP, the Department of State, and Secretary of State Michael Pompeo urging that Dehghani be allowed to return to the U.S. for his studies and decrying the “discriminatory practice of denying Iranian students entry to the United States.”

“Mr. [Dehghani] and our other Iranian students deserve the same right to educational attainment as all of our students and should not be denied that right simply based on their nationality,” they wrote. 

The student’s lawyers are currently pursuing further legal actions, according to the Associated Press, including a request that CBP be compelled to explain why the court order temporarily halting his deportation wasn’t honored. 

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