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Incoming MSU student from Iran stopped at DTW, deported before he could begin studies

shoulder of a us customs and border protection officer
Glenn Fawcett
U.S. Customs and Border Protection

UPDATE: Alireza Yazdani Esfidajani has now been deported, according his attorneys. This story has also been updated with statements from U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Michigan State University.

An incoming Ph.D. student at Michigan State University faces deportation after being stopped by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents at Detroit Metro Airport.

The student's name is Alireza Yazdani Esfidajani. He's originally from Iran. His attorney says he has a valid visa and permission from MSU to study at the university.

Ghazal Nicole Mehrani is an attorney representing the student. She says CBP agents questioned him for six hours, and he spent the night in a county detention center before she and another attorney were able to see him.

“He was terrified, we could tell,” Mehrani says. "And today was his birthday, and so he most likely didn’t want to be at the detention center on his birthday.”

"We have to know why, why Iranian students have been targeted specifically over the past six months," says attorney Ghazal Nicole Mehrani

Mehrani says Esfidajan told her he signed a paper to withdraw his visa application and return to Iran. If true, she says he would have no legal recourse to stop his deportation.

He is scheduled to be on a flight at 4:10 p.m.

Mehrani says she believes it’s significant that Esfidajan is Iranian.

“We’re seeing a trend,” Mehrani says, citing other cases in which Iranian students were stopped by border agents. “As far as I know, this is the first one at DTW. And we have to know why, why Iranian students have been targeted specifically over the past six months.”

Update: U.S. Customs and Border Protection sent a statement to Michigan Radio about the case. Here is the statement in full:

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers are charged with enforcing not only immigration and customs laws, but also enforce over 400 laws for 40 other agencies and have stopped thousands of violators of U.S. law. Every day across America, CBP processes more than 1 million travelers at our Nation’s Ports of Entry. Of those 1 million seeking admission, approximately 790 are refused entry daily. Every applicant for admission is subject to inspection upon ar rival into the United States. The issuance of a visa or participation in the visa waiver program does not guarantee entry to the United States. On January 26, Alireza Yazdani Esfidajani applied for entry into the United States, and was later deemed inadmissible at which time he withdrew his application for admission into the United States. The traveler was not arrested, rather held until a return flight could be arranged to his place of departure. Applicants must demonstrate they are admissible into the U.S. by overcoming 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.

2nd Update: Here is the full statement from Michigan State University: 

Officials at Michigan State University were made aware Sunday evening of a new Iranian graduate student being detained at the Detroit airport. The student was set to start classes with MSU this month. Through the Office of International Students and Scholars, the university has worked the past 24 hours with members of our Michigan congressional delegation, other federal support agencies and the student’s lawyer to help through this difficult situation. We want international students to know we value and welcome them to our campus, and we are committed to global engagement, educating international students and collaborating with partners across the world in higher education efforts. MSU’s international students make tremendous contributions to fueling discoveries and scholarship. Global leadership can only be maintained if talented people from across the globe are encouraged to come here to study and work.

This post has been updated to correct the full name of the student to Alireza Yazdani Esfidajani. We previously referred to him as Alireza Yazdani. (Jan. 28, 2020 at 1:23 p.m.)

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Dustin Dwyer reports enterprise and long-form stories from Michigan Radio’s West Michigan bureau. He was a fellow in the class of 2018 at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. He’s been with Michigan Radio since 2004, when he started as an intern in the newsroom.
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