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An Iranian cancer researcher traveling to the U.S. to work as a visiting scholar at Boston Children’s Hospital has been detained with his wife and three children at Boston Logan International Airport.

The researcher, Mohsen Dehnavi, holds a visiting work visa that was issued in May. His detainment comes just two weeks after the Supreme Court ruled that the Trump administration could largely enforce an executive order that would ban people from six Muslim-majority countries, including Iran, from entering the U.S. The court also ruled that the ban couldn’t apply to visitors who already held valid visas.

A spokesperson for U.S. Customs and Border Protection told STAT that the decision to deny the family entry into the U.S. was for reasons unrelated to the executive order. Dehnavi — along with his wife and three children, ages 6, 3, and 7 months — will be sent back to Iran on the next scheduled flight from Boston, the spokesperson said.


Dehnavi was traveling to the U.S. on a J-1 visa, which is issued to researchers and other academics who are participating in visiting scholar programs.

“Boston Children’s hopes that this situation will be quickly resolved and Dr. Dehnavi and his family will be released and allowed to enter the U.S.,” Rob Graham, a spokesperson for the hospital, said in a statement to STAT.


Mohammad Rashidian, a Boston Children’s Hospital researcher and friend of Dehnavi’s, said airport officials told him that family would need to speak to the State Department to complete additional paperwork to be allowed into the U.S.

“I don’t really know what the source of the problem is,” said Rashidian, who was supposed to pick the family up from the airport on Monday afternoon. Dehnavi texted him to say they he and his family had arrived and were waiting in line to have their visas checked. Rashidian hasn’t heard from them since.

“They were so worried,” he said.

When Trump’s initial travel ban was put in place in January, some foreign researchers from the affected countries were prevented from traveling to work in the U.S. Samira Asgari, an Iranian postdoctoral fellow who was slated to join a lab in Boston, wasn’t allowed to board her flight in January. Another Iranian scientist, Seyed Soheil Saeedi Saravi, had his visa suspended just days before his was set to travel to the U.S. for a research fellowship at Harvard.

Trita Parsi, the president of the National Iranian American Council, tweeted a picture of Dehnavi’s visa Tuesday morning.

Boston Children’s Hospital said it is “doing its utmost” to support Dehnavi and his family. Rashidian also reached out to the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Iranian American Council for assistance.

This story was updated with a statement from U.S. Customs and Border Protection. 

  • First I should say that I have no good experience with the US CBP and how they treat people. But Mohsen Dehnavi is a fanatic Basiji who should be arrested and jailed because of his role in suppressing Iranian people. He was given money to come to the US merely because he is Basiji and nothing to do with his scientific credentials. Many other Iranian researchers without ties to the Basij do not get this opportunity. It is also curious why this Basiji guy wants to go to the US (which he considers as the great Satan). Apparently it is great Satan for others and not for him.

  • The J1 was merely an excuse to seek a Green Card. Notice that the two year rule, that the scholar must return to the home country does not apply. He planned this out well but got stuck at the final point. As for being a prominent cancer researcher, god knows. There have been 1000’s who have abused the J1 visa under the name of scholarship. Most of the so called scholars are good for nothing but slip through the cracks in the system. For instance one of my friends in India did not find a job in US after completing his PhD, largely because he is just a very average incompetent phd. Yet, he is now applying for a J1 and in all likelihood will slip through the system. what was intended to be a visa to exchange knowledge has become another scam.

    • The 2 year rule only applies, if one receives governmental research funding from either the US or the home country.
      The J1 visa can never be obtained to obtain a green card, as one requirement for a J1 visa is a strong motivation to go back to the home country after the J1 expires. The 2 year rule becomes relevant when someone wants to extent their work contract or wants to join a different research lab abroad within less than those 2 years after returning home.

      And did you notice the number of entries? He’s only allowed to enter on that visa once. If he leaves e.g. to attend an international conference, he’d have to re-apply his visa. That’s how much your country trusts visiting researchers from Iran. Weird, my J1 issues in Germany allows me multiple entries, I’m free to come and go as I want (within the time my visa is valid)

      And at least the PIs must believe the researcher is worth something, otherwise they wouldn’t spend part their research budget on them.

  • It is a fallacy that one can “check the background” of these people. Check what exactly? The terror watch list? Its only a list of known terrorists. And there is no possible way of knowing if these people are supporters or spies or what their values are. I say put ankle bracelets on these visa holders which can be removed when they exit the country.

  • The advocate at the hospital is Iranian, and may have been attempting to gain access for a buddy under false pretenses. Investigate both him and the hospital.

  • Very well Done By the US Govt.
    Deport an Iranian Dr. who has passed several identification processes prior to getting the J1, and Let in your Saudi and Emirate specialists. As a matter of fact, they have a great history in 9/11 and ……

  • I wonder why Boston Children’s think this Iranian scientist has a magic bullet for childhood cancers. Maybe they should promote some of their internal scientific staff.

    • I’ll disagree. If there is star talent elsewhere…. We need to go and recruit and make sure their talents are actually beneficial to the world. Instead of just wasting away in a third world country.

    • Come again? What risks? The man had already passed background checks and was issued a visa.

      If the people at DHS and ICE were not such awful, authoritarian morons it would be easier to accept that these decisions were based on actual risk. They aren’t. They are pure partisan politics or else the Saudi’s–who actually have committed terror on US soil–would also be banned. Banning scientists and researchers helps no one.

  • Lots of people from lots of countries get detained, many get resolved, and others get turned away for lots of reasons every day. Big deal. Firstly, we don’t know the exact issue with this person’s paperwork, or even if he and his family may ultimately be allowed in. So without the full story, this is just another example of irresponsible journalism. It seems the goal is to get the reactionary lefties to start foaming at the mouth.

    • How is reporting that an Iranian medical scientist and family on way to join a Boston Children’s Hospital’s children’s cancer research team knowledge “irresponsible journalism”? Did you borrow that line from Trump, or Fox , or perhaps you just don’t think children’s cancer research can gain from any other expertise-especially if a foreigner .
      If you had a baby with an intractable brain malignancy how would you feel if you turned away a scientist who just MIGHT have contributed a needed link toward team cure?
      Your comment is what’s

      Boston medical scientists

  • Sorry, but 1/3 of valid visa holders from these countries over stay their visas, of those, its estimated that 3/4 lied on their applications. System has to be tightened, and unfortunately that will mean that it is inevitable that some unintended and unfortunate consequences may result.

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