Two of at least 10 Iranian college students who have been denied entry since August to study in the United States have filed civil rights complaints with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), saying they were wrongfully deported and mistreated by federal officials at Boston’s Logan International Airport.
Separate complaints were filed with requests for the agency to investigate the conduct of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials who the two said illegally denied them entry into the country.
The plaintiffs are Shahab Dehghani, a student at Northeastern University, and Reihana Emami Arandi, who had been scheduled to start classes at Harvard University.
Arandi, 35, said in her complaint filed on January 30 that she was detained on September 18 and questioned for nearly eight hours about her life and viewpoints, including recent events in the Middle East.
Dehghani’s lawyers said their client was admitted to the United States three times in recent years to study in Boston. He was denied entry and deported in January.
Both plaintiffs had valid U.S. visas upon their arrival and said they were thoroughly vetted by the State Department prior to receiving them.
Federal officials also allegedly ignored an emergency court order temporarily staying Dehghani’s removal until the case could be heard in court.
CBP subsequently said it was not aware a court had temporarily blocked the student’s removal.
CBP was "unaware of the issuance of any court order barring the removal of the subject from the United States" when Dehghani boarded the deportation flight, the agency said in a statement.
U.S. Senator and Democratic presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren in a tweet January 21 said Dehghani's deportation must be halted, but he had already been put on a flight back to Europe the previous day. "We must fight the Trump administration's xenophobic policies," she wrote.
The incident became a controversial issue on Twitter among diaspora Iranians. While some came to Dehghani's defense others said he is a sympathizer of the Islamic Republic and studying in the U.S. is a privilege not an automatic right.
Civil rights groups such as, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Muslim Justice League, say Iranians have been deliberately subject to extra screenings and interrogations at airports ever since President Donald Trump issued a ban on travelers from several predominantly Muslim countries in 2017, including Iran.
In January, civil rights groups and public officials in the state of Washington made inquiries over reports that dozens of Iranians and Iranian-Americans were held up and questioned for hours as they returned to the United States from Canada after the winter holidays.
The Washington state branch of the nonprofit Council on American-Islamic Relations said more than 60 Iranians and Iranian-Americans of all ages were detained for up to 10 hours or more, questioned about their political views, and had their personal belongings confiscated like passports, car keys, and smart phones at Washington state’s border with Canada.