The Texas A&M University invited Henry Rousso, one of the most distinguished French Jewish scholars on the Holocaust, to deliver the keynote address during symposium organized by the school’s Hagler Institute for Advanced Study.
However, the university officials grew concerned after the historian failed to meet the driver they had sent to collect him. The organizers alerted the dean of the law school, president of the university and immigration lawyers to find out about the guest speaker’s whereabouts.
As it turned out, the Egyptian-born French citizen, who is a renowned expert on history of France after World War II and is member of the National Center for Scientific Research, had been detained at the George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston.
The federal border agents had reportedly pulled him aside — without an explanation — as soon as he arrived on the airport following an 11-hour flight from Paris.
Citing a “random check,” the airport officials held him for 10 hours, during which they analyzed his travel documents, subjected him to a body search, asked questions about his visa and purpose of visit to the United States, interrogated him about his family and forced him to take an oath.
By the time Rousso was able to call Richard Golsan, the director of Texas A&M’s Melbern G. Glasscock Center for Humanities Research, he was about to be deported to Paris.
Golsan informed the school about the arrest, which in turn contacted Immigrant Rights Clinic director Fatma Marouf, a law professor familiar with President Donald Trump’s travel ban.
Fortunately, she was able to intervene and free Rousso before the authorities could board him on an airplane.
“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,” said Golsan. “Due to Marouf’s prompt and timely intervention, Rousso was released.”
The scholar was able to deliver his lecture the day later.
He also took to Twitter to share his 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
While it is unclear why the immigration officers stopped him, Rousso told The Huffington Post that it might be because of his Egyptian heritage. His family left Egypt in 1956 after then-President Gamal Abdel Nasser imposed a slew of anti-Semitic measures.
It is also pertinent to mention that Egypt, though a Muslim-majority country, was not included in Trump’s executive order barring immigration from seven countries.
“It would be in no means difficult to look up who he is,” commented Jason Mills, an immigration lawyer who helped secure Rousso’s eventual release. “His reasons for being here were nothing but beneficial to the United States. He is a man of experience and age. There is plenty of history there on him. I don’t understand why he would have been in for the several hours that he was. It is a little alarming.”
Meanwhile, Marouf believes the arrest was a result of the new, stricter border-control regime.
“It seems like there's much more rigidity and rigor in enforcing these immigration requirements and the technicalities of every visa,” she told The Eagle.