French Holocaust historian, Australian children's book author detained, humiliated at U.S. airports

A CBP agent, changing gears in Trump era
(Image credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

On Sunday, President Trump hailed what he called the great successes of his first four weeks in office, telling governors at a White House gala that "the borders are stricter, tighter. We're doing a really good job." The first part of that at least appears to be true. But noted French historian Henry Rousso and Australia's best-selling children's author, Mem Fox, were both erroneously detained and mistreated at two different U.S. airports in February, and their remarkably similar stories aren't encouraging.

Rousso, 62, was pulled aside by Customs and Border Protection agents after he arrived at George Bush Intercontinental Airport on Feb. 22, on his way to an academic conference at Texas A&M University; he would have been deported to Paris if the university hadn't intervened. Fox, 70, was detained after arriving at Los Angeles International Airport on Feb. 6 on her way to a conference in Milwaukee. Both were held for multiple hours and questioned aggressively about their visas; each had traveled to the U.S. dozens of times, and both say they are not sure they will ever return.

The CBP agents appeared to be convinced, incorrectly, that Rousso and Fox were violating immigration work laws because they received honoraria to cover travel and hotel costs. Rousso was held for 10 hours, finally released at 1 a.m. and told the CBP agent who first pulled him aside was "inexperienced." Fox was held for just under two hours, and CBP agents realized her visa was valid for her trip after 15 minutes of intense questioning in front of about 20 other people being detained, she says. "I have never in my life been spoken to with such insolence, treated with such disdain," she told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. "When I got to my hotel room, I completely collapsed and sobbed like a baby." She lodged a complaint with the U.S. Embassy in Canberra and got a "charming" email response, she tells The Washington Post. "I took it as an apology from all of America."

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Fox's bestselling books, including Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes and Possum Magic, are about the importance of tolerance and acceptance, also the theme of her talk in Milwaukee. Rousso is an expert on France's history after World War I, especially its role in the Holocaust and Vichy collaboration with Nazi Germany. Jason Mills, an immigration lawyer who helped secure Rousso's release, said such treatment of a visiting scholar was unusual, but immigration officers view their jobs differently under Trump: "Now they're looking really hard for reasons to deny, instead of reasons to admit."

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