Jurisprudence

Will CBP Get Away With Deporting an Iranian Student Against a Court Order?

“I don’t think they’re going to listen to me,” the judge said.

An empty airport terminal
Boston’s Logan International Airport
RYAN MCBRIDE/Getty Images

A federal courtroom in Boston was packed Tuesday morning with attorneys, activists, and friends of an Iranian student who was denied entry to the United States, despite having a valid visa.

Shahab Dehghani, 24, flew into Logan International Airport on Sunday afternoon, ready to start his spring semester at Northeastern University. He was refused entry, and Customs and Border Protection officials told him his visa had been revoked. A federal judge issued a court order to stay his removal Monday night.

Attorneys representing Dehghani attended the courtroom Tuesday ready to argue on his behalf, only to learn learned that their client had been deported the night before.

“We feel this is a pattern of Customs and Border Protection ignoring court orders and ignoring the law,” Kerry Doyle, one of the attorneys representing Dehghani, told reporters after the hearing.

And CBP may just get away with it. In Tuesday’s hearing, District of Massachusetts Judge Richard G. Stearns dismissed the case as “moot” since Dehghani had already been deported. “I don’t think they’re going to listen to me,” Stearns said.

Dehghani’s attorneys say they are asking the judge to reconsider given that CBP apparently ignored a federal judge’s order.

It’s not clear why exactly Dehghani was deported. According to court documents, it took Dehghani nearly one year to receive this visa. About a week after learning that his visa was renewed, Dehghani booked a flight to Boston, with a layover in Paris. His attorneys are questioning what could have changed between the renewal of his visa and his entry to the U.S. Doyle told reporters that she received documentation suggesting CBP denied Dehghani’s entry because they believed he would try to remain in the United States permanently.

“There’s nothing here that shows that,” Doyle said. “He has no long-term significant other here. His family is overseas. I mean, he’s just intending to pursue his degree.”

Dehghani – whose full name is Mohammad Shahab Dehghani Hossein Abadi – attended the University of Massachusetts in Boston in 2015 before then transferring to Northeastern University, CommonWealth Magazine reported. After studying there for two semesters, he went back to Iran to visit family and then reapplied for an F-1 student visa in order to continue his studies at Northeastern.

Dehghani’s not the only Iranian with a valid visa to be refused entry. Massachusetts Sen. Edward Markey called the deportation “part of a disturbing pattern from the Trump administration of disregarding the law and targeting Iranian students.”

The Guardian found that since August, at least 10 Iranian students have been refused entry and deported upon arriving at U.S. airports. Seven of those students had flown into Logan International Airport. The Los Angeles Times also found 20 Iranian students whose visas were abruptly revoked without explanation last fall.

The apparent violation of a federal court order makes Dehghani’s case even more troubling. Federal prosecutors argued in court on Tuesday that Dehghani was removed before District Judge Allison Burroughs issued her emergency stay. But according to court records obtained by BuzzFeed News, Burroughs issued the emergency stay shortly before 9:30 p.m. Monday night. Deghani’s plane took off from Boston at 10:03 p.m.

“THEY LIED,” tweeted Susan Church, another one of the immigration attorneys representing Dehghani.

Church told Slate that the attorneys were prevented from reaching Dehghani due to CBP’s “obstructionist manner.”

“We tried multiple times to reach this man as his attorneys. We had congressional intervention, liaison requests, and similar inquiries made throughout the day, all day on Monday,” she said. “They refused to answer hiding [behind] alleged privacy concerns.”

CBP has become increasingly lawless under President Donald Trump. Agents have unilaterally ignored court orders, killed dozens of people, and unlawfully detained legal residents all without facing consequences.

After President Donald Trump passed the first version of his travel ban in January 2017 – targeting nationals of Iran and six other Muslim-majority countries – a federal district judge ruled that legal permanent residents (green card holders) detained at Dulles International Airport must be allowed access to attorneys. A CBP official, however, told agents to ignore phone calls from lawyers, calling them “a form of telephonic protest.”

Trump has encouraged CBP agents to defy court orders in its crackdown on immigration.
Last spring, he told then-CBP head Kevin McAleenan he would pardon him if he were sent to jail for ordering border agents to block asylum-seekers from entering the country in violation of U.S. immigration law.

“This is one student’s plight, but it is happening nationwide,” said Church, who is also representing an Iranian woman who was admitted to Harvard Divinity School and then denied entry to the country.

“I have represented many Iranians during the travel ban. Many of them are doctors, lawyers, engineers and scientists,” she said. “Why some single officer feels compelled to crush the lives of people who only want to live in safety and without fear is beyond me.”