March 1, 2017
When Henry Rousso landed at Houston’s George Bush International Airport on February 22, the Paris-based historian, who studies Holocaust-era Europe, was expecting a smooth entry to the country, where he was scheduled to attend a symposium at Texas A&M University. After all, as an academic Rousso had spent 30 years making international trips for conferences. With universities taking care of the visa requirements that allowed him to collect honorariums for his lectures, he had never encountered trouble with immigration.
The scholar was in for a shock: After what he described as a “random check” by Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Rousso was detained at the airport for 10 hours and threatened with deportation.
Now Rousso — who was let into the country after Michael Young, the president of Texas A&M University, was alerted to the situation and asked law professor Fatma Marouf to intervene with CBP — is speaking out about his experience.
“Examining my passport, the policeman noted that I recently received a ‘J1’ visa, granted to academics, having been a visiting professor at Columbia University in New York from September 2016 to January 2017,” Rousso wrote in The Huffington Post. “He concluded that I was returning to work “illegally” in the U.S. with an expired visa.” The authorities interrogated him, he continued, took his fingerprints, conducted a bodily search, and informed him “that I will never be able to enter the country again without a specific visa.”
The Egyptian-born Rousso, who immigrated to France with his family in 1956 after they were exiled as Jews under the administration of President Gamal Abdel Nasser, was troubled by his own situation. He was horrified, though, by that of his fellow detainees, many of whom lacked resources to help them in their plight. When two police officers came to take a man Rousso identified as probably Hispanic to a boarding gate for deportation, he wrote, “they handcuffed him, chained him at the waist, and shackled him.”