Holocaust Historian Held, Threatened With Deportation At Houston Airport

Holocaust Historian Held, Threatened With Deportation At Houston Airport

French historian Henry Rousso, one of the world’s most pre-eminent scholars of the Holocaust, says that he was held for 10 hours at Houston International Airport and threatened with deportation. According to a report from BBC News, the incident was “due to a visa misunderstanding.”

Rousso was visiting Texas A&M University as a guest at the Hagler Institute Symposium; officials there were able to stop the imminent deportation with help from Texas A&M Law School professor and director of the Immigrant Rights Clinic Fatma Marouf. According to Marouf, they were able to tap their network of connections to get in touch with U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents and resolve the issue. “Due to her prompt and timely intervention, Rousso was released,” said Richard Golsan, director of the Melbern G. Glasscock Center for Humanities Research at Texas A&M.

Marouf described the incident to detain and deport Rousso on the next available flight as an “extreme response.”

“In the past, I had not seen anything like that happening. It seems like there’s much more rigidity and rigor in enforcing these immigration requirements and the technicalities of every visa.”

Earlier this month, Marouf assisted in writing an amicus brief opposing the Trump administration’s ban on travelers from seven Muslim-majority nations.

According to the Toronto Star, there was no clear reason for Rousso’s detainment.

Rousso, an Egyptian-born, Jewish French citizen, landed from Paris after an 11-hour flight. “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.

Immigration lawyer Jason Mills, who helped secure Rousso’s release, added that “It would be in no means difficult to look up who he is.”

“His reasons for being here were nothing but beneficial to the United States.”

According to Rousso, the Customs and Border Protection officers who interrogated him accused him of violating immigration law by attempting to enter the country and give an academic lecture under a tourist visa – the issue, apparently, being a $2,000 honorarium he was being paid to attend the conference. That payment was fully permissible under immigration law for visiting academics, but Rousso said that the agents didn’t seem to realize that.

“The officer who arrested me was ‘inexperienced’,” he noted later on Twitter; the quotes are his own emphasis.

While Rousso was cleared and able to give his scheduled lecture, it remains unclear why he was detained in the first place. Egypt was not on the list of countries included in the travel ban, which was suspended by the time Rousso arrived. Further, France is a beneficiary of the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, permitting French citizens to enter America without a visa, so long as they file an online application before leaving France.

Rousso is an expert on the Vichy Regime, a period during which unoccupied France openly collaborated with Nazi Germany during World War II. The Vichy Regime was particularly known for assisting in rounding up and deporting tens of thousands of Jews from France during the Holocaust. Rousso and his family were exiled from Egypt in 1956 during a period of extreme anti-Semitism under the regime of Gamal Abder Nasser. They fled to France, where Rousso eventually became a leading expert in the country’s history with the Holocaust.

Many prominent historians took to social media in an outpouring of support for Rousso after his ordeal became public. “Thank you so much for your reactions,” Rousso responded, but added that “My situation was nothing compared to some of the people I saw who couldn’t be defended as I was.”

After returning home, in an editorial for the French edition of the Huffington Post, he wrote that “It is now necessary to deal with the utmost arbitrariness and incompetence on the other side of the Atlantic. What I know, in loving this country forever, is that the United States is no longer quite the United States.”

[Featured Image by Katherine Welles/Shutterstock]