Despite a court order to keep Shahab Dehghani, 24, in the United States, federal officials removed him from the country Monday.
Dehghani, who had a valid student visa, was detained at the airport Sunday as he was returning to Northeastern University, where he studies economics and mathematics. A judge granted a stay of removal Monday night. But according to Kerry Doyle, one of Dehghani's immigration attorneys, he was deported anyway. On Tuesday, a judge dismissed Dehghani’s case, calling it moot since he was no longer in the country.
Dehghani's supporters called his removal an outrage.
"We feel this is a pattern of US Customs and Border Protection ignoring court orders and ignoring the law,” Doyle said. “We feel the Iranian community has been unfortunately targeted, it appears, because we're hearing many reports, especially out of the Boston port of entry."
Dehghani’s detention by US Customs and Border Protection sparked protests at Boston’s Logan International Airport. Immigration lawyers and activists say Dehghani’s case is just one of several examples of how Iranian nationals, especially students, have been subject to aggressive screening at US ports of entry and sometimes denied entry, even if they have valid documents to enter the country. According to ACLU Massachusetts, at least 10 students were sent back to Iran after arriving at US airports around the country.
A spokesperson with Northeastern University said the school was in touch with federal officials about Dheghani's case. CBP and the Department of Homeland Security did not respond to The World's request for comment.
The World’s Marco Werman spoke with Mahsa Khanbabai, chair of New England’s American Immigration Lawyers Association, about Dehghani’s removal.
Marco Werman: What do you make of this Iranian student's detainment and now deportation from Boston, Mahsa?
Mahsa Khanbabai: It is incredibly concerning for a number of reasons. First, a lot of these students go through extensive screening and vetting by a number of different agencies as part of their visa application at the embassy or consulate. So it's pretty clear that they've been vetted and have been determined to have a credible need to come to the United States, to enter. For example, in this case ... they've been determined not to be a danger or present any threat to the United States. So to have Customs and Border Protection turn around like this and subject someone to an extreme version of removal from the United States known as expedited removal, is pretty concerning. And I think some answers would be quite helpful for not only the community of international students, in particular Iranian students, but for individuals like myself and other attorneys that are concerned about upholding the law.
On what grounds could Customs and Border Protection actually detain and deport them?
What we've been seeing with these expedited removals is that the government is charging them with one of two grounds — arguing that they're intending [to become] immigrants, meaning that they are coming to stay in the United States, live here and not really follow the purpose of going to school, which is highly doubtful. And second, that some of them have committed fraud. And those are the only two provisions that students can be subject to expedited removal. So it appears that the CBP is grasping at straws in wanting to try to impose these very extreme measures on removing students from the airport directly, not allowing them in to be able to continue their studies in many cases.
And as far as Shahab Deghani's expedited removal [is concerned], what have you heard from CBP or Homeland Security?
I don't think we've heard anything officially from them. They have been issuing their generic statement saying that we can't provide any information on this case. It's similar to the same response that we got for a client of mine who underwent a very similar situation.
This is not the first time we're seeing an Iranian detained at US ports of entry. Recently, there were reports that dozens of Iranian-Americans were detained at the Canadian-US border. So what's going on?
That's a great question and I'd love to know the answer to that and would expect that the government would want to be transparent and explain what it's doing. Instead, they've been hiding behind, I think, random instances like this that we're all trying to tie the pieces together. But what we have seen is that over the last one year, especially Iranians, Iranian-Americans have been subject to all kinds of extra scrutiny on a wide net basis. Right. This is not any targeted investigation or targeted background search. It seems that it's just this wide net: "Hey, let's just talk to any Iranian and any Iranian-American and gather information and store it."
What do you think needs to happen now in Dhegani's case? And what advice do you have for other Iranians traveling to the US with what they believe are valid documents?
I think for a lot of students, it's important for them to be able to talk to an attorney, to get advice, to be aware of their rights and perhaps avoid Logan.
And for Dhegahni specifically, does he have any options to try and appeal this and return to his studies?
I think that there might be some options. It's going to be important to get some full details, sadly. This is really just a rapid response right now because it's happened so suddenly. No one was aware of the fact that he was coming in and might be subject to being detained and subject to expedited removal. So it's kind of catching up now, getting all the details, getting all the facts and looking at the options.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.