(CNN)They left Iran with valid visas in hand. But hours after landing in the US, they were forced to turn back on flights they never expected to take.
From Massachusetts to Michigan, reports are on the rise of authorities detaining and deporting Iranian students at US airports. A 27-year-old engineer who’d planned to get a doctorate at Michigan State University was deported from Detroit Metro Airport on Monday. A week earlier, a 24-year-old Northeastern University student was escorted onto a plane in Boston as protesters at the airport pushed for his release.
For the students, it’s devastating. For immigrant rights advocates, it’s a troubling pattern emerging as tensions run high between the US and Iran. And for American universities hoping to convince the world’s top students to study in their classrooms, it’s causing concern — even though the overall number of cases is still relatively small.
“Campuses are much more worried about what happens at the port of entry than they used to be … because it is so unpredictable and so apparently random,” says Terry Hartle, senior vice president of the American Council on Education, which represents about 1,800 colleges and universities. “It used to be that you would breathe a sigh of a relief when your international student got their visa. Now you breathe a sigh of relief when they get to campus.”
US Customs and Border Protection says its inspections take additional factors into account and can uncover details that didn’t come up in previous visa screenings.
There’s no guarantee, the agency says, that someone with a visa will be allowed to enter the United States. And every day, hundreds of people are denied entry at US ports.
But advocacy organizations, rights groups and immigration lawyers say the situation they’ve seen unfolding recently is far from business as usual.
“Something’s different now,” says Ali Rahnama, legislative counsel for the Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans. “Deportation of this number of students is not normal.”