An Egyptian-born French historian was scheduled to speak at a Texas A&M symposium last week, but he nearly missed the event because customs agents “mistakenly detained” him for 10 hours at a Houston airport — and threatened to deport him immediately.
Henry Rousso, a World War II scholar and member of the National Center for Scientific Research was grabbed and detained at the George Bush Intercontinental Airport on Wednesday, following a long flight from Paris. He was reportedly brought to an interrogation room for a “random check” after he was pulled aside by immigration officials without an explanation. According to his own account of what happened, Rousso was questioned about his travel documents and accused of flying to the United States to work on an illegal visa, before he was interrogated about his family, subjected to a body search, and forced to take an oath.
During his detention, Rousso called the director of Texas A&M’s Melbern G. Glasscock Center for Humanities Research, Richard Golsan, to alert the school about his arrest. Golsan then reached out to the university president, Michael K. Young, who in turn contacted law school professor and Director of the Immigrant Rights Clinic Fatma Marouf. Having recently filed an amicus brief about President Donald Trump’s Muslim ban, Marouf was familiar with the executive order and interceded on Rousso’s behalf, before he was deported.
News of the incident broke on Friday, when Golsan alerted symposium attendees about what transpired days before.
“When he called me with this news two nights ago, he was waiting for customs officials to send him back to Paris as an illegal alien on the first flight out,” Golsan said. “Due to [Marouf’s] prompt and timely intervention, Rousso was released.”
Rousso was able to speak at the school event on Friday. The next day, he tweeted about the ordeal.
I confirm. I have been detained 10 hours at Houston Itl Airport about to be deported. The officer who arrested me was "inexperienced" https://t.co/SdIKWKQbnr
— Henry Rousso (@Henry_Rousso) February 26, 2017
On Sunday, Rousso shared details about his arrest and reflected on the incident in an op-ed titled “Is the United States Still the United States?” for the French division of the Huffington Post.
“It is now necessary to deal with the utmost arbitrariness and incompetence on the other side of the Atlantic,” he wrote. “I do not know what is the worst. What I know, loving this country forever, is that the United States is no longer quite the United States.”
According to Marouf, the incident is an example of beefed up security under Trump, who issued an executive order to temporarily ban visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries, suspend refugee resettlement, and indefinitely block refugees from Syria. The ban has been temporarily halted.
“It seems like there’s much more rigidity and rigor in enforcing these immigration requirements and technicalities of every visa,” Marouf said in an interview with the Eagle.
Egypt is not one of the countries targeted by Trump, and French citizens do not need special visas to enter the United States.
Rousso’s detention is yet another example of the arbitrariness of immigration enforcement and the chaos caused by the ban. As ThinkProgress previously reported, customs agents have coerced at least 60 travelers from the seven targeted countries into signing away their visas and, ultimately, their rights to be in the United States. But people who aren’t even from countries on the ban list have been detained and pressured into giving up their visas and green cards.