This Monday, Mohammad Shahab Dehghani Hossein Abadi was forced to fly out of the country to Paris. He had successfully transferred from University of Massachusetts Boston to Northeastern University and was planning to attend NEU this semester to begin studying economics.
Despite his student visa being recently approved, U.S. Customs and Border Protection justified his removal by claiming that Hossein Abadi intended to overstay his student visa. He had yet to arrive in the country, but the bureau superimposed political meaning over the young man’s academic motivations.
An individual’s nationality can, in fact, be mutually exclusive from bilateral conflict. General Qasem Soleimani’s murder may have elicited a response from the Iranian government, but that should not have lead to a generalization about all Iranians. This is especially true when taking into account the time and effort Hossein Abadi put in to study in this country.
He went through the tedious and expensive process of gathering legal documents, transcripts, test scores and checks to attend UMass Boston as an international student. And he did it all over again to transfer, likely for the chance to attend a school that provides a more fitting educational opportunity for him.
The likelihood that he jumped through those hoops for the purpose of carrying out a political vendetta against the United States is extremely low. More important, though, are the broader consequences for our economy, the international community and the country’s evolving status as a gatekeeping nation.
If Hossein Abadi’s removal goes beyond our borders, it will definitely contribute to an irrational fear for the rest of the international student community — especially those from Iran and its surrounding countries. Talented international students may be deterred from coming to study and work in the U.S. This potentially amounts to a $30 billion loss to the national economy, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The damage to the Massachusetts economy could be even worse. As a center for education, many of or even all of the schools around NEU may see a decline in the percentages of international students in their incoming classes. Boston could absolutely lose its status as a sanctuary city.
The law enforcement agency that removed Hossein Abadi was put into place to make us feel safe. Even if that was the sincere intent in this case, his removal wouldn’t be justified by the facts of the case. Instead, these practices have become interrogative and hardened our borders in a time when the world is supposed to be globalized — where our country is more diverse now than ever before.
As we decide whether or not to travel, we must think through the way we dress, the way we present ourselves and even the places we are coming and going from. The color of our skin and passports no longer simply bear the marks of where we come from.
If we continue to move in this direction, Hossein Abadi’s removal in complete defiance of a court order may not be an isolated incident.