An Iranian cancer researcher who travelled to the US with his family on a valid visa has been sent back to his home country two weeks after Donald Trump’s revised travel ban came into force.
Mohsen Dehnavi on Monday was denied entry to the US, along with his wife and three children, and detained at Boston’s Logan international airport after US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers deemed him “inadmissible” to the US. He was put on a return flight shortly after 9pm on Tuesday.
The researcher, 32, was traveling to the US to work as a visiting scholar at Boston children’s hospital, which is academically affiliated with Harvard Medical School.
His denial of entry to the US comes two weeks after Trump’s modified executive order for a travel ban came into force and banned entry to the US for people from six Muslim-majority countries: Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
Travellers with a “bona fide relationship” with a person or entity in the US are exempt from the ban, but conflicting interpretations of the order have led to what activists say are arbitrary decisions made at airports or US embassies issuing visas.
Stephanie Malin, a CBP spokeswoman, denied Dehnavi’s case was related to Trump’s executive order.
“This individual was deemed inadmissible to the US based on information discovered during the CBP inspection,” Malin said in a statement, adding that applicants were checked against “all grounds of inadmissibility including health-related grounds, criminality, security reasons, public charge, labor certification, illegal entrants and immigration violations, documentation requirements, and miscellaneous grounds”.
An official from Iran’s prestigious Sharif University said students were preparing to give Dehnavi a hero’s welcome upon his arrival in Tehran on Wednesday night. “He had to return to Iran after the aggressive behaviour by the US government. Students and professors from Sharif University will greet him at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini airport upon his arrival,” Amir Basiri of Sharif’s academic elite committee told Tasnim news, describing him as exceptionally talented. “He came first in Sharif University’s PhD entry exam,” he said.
Dehnavi is yet to comment on the episode but his brother was quoted by Iran’s semi-official Mehr news agency as saying that authorities had issues with his academic paperwork.
“His research is about treatment of cancer for children and he had traveled to the US to continue his education at Harvard University and participate in a postdoc programme,” the unnamed brother said in comments carried by Mehr.
In an emailed statement, made before the family was put on a flight back to Iran, Boston children’s hospital said Dehnavi was traveling on a non-immigrant visa issued to highly skilled research scholars, professors and exchange visitors.
“Dr Dehnavi is a visiting research scholar on a J-1 visa coming to Boston Children’s with his wife and three children,” read the statement. “He and his family are being detained at Logan [and] are supposed to be sent back to Iran later today.”
Dehnavi’s predicament came into light after Mohammad Rashidian, a friend who was due to pick them up from the airport, said on Facebook that officers had told him “that they will not let them in and they need to go back to home”.
Trita Parsi, the president of the National Iranian American Council, the largest Iranian American grassroots organisation, posted a picture of Dehnavi’s visa on Twitter.