The Slatest

Recent Border Detentions Include Children’s Author, Holocaust Expert, Muhammad Ali Jr.

Muhammad Ali Jr. and Khalilah Camacho-Ali during a Monday appearance on MSNBC.


Though the Trump administration’s ban on refugees and travelers from seven specific countries has been at least temporarily struck down via judicial order, a number of recent incidents seems to indicate that Customs and Border Protection agents have begun subjecting U.S. visitors from all foreign countries to increasingly aggressive and potentially inappropriate scrutiny.

Just in the past several days, for example:

  • Muhammad Ali’s son and ex-wife, who are American citizens, said publicly that Ali Jr. was detained for two hours at the Fort Lauderdale–Hollywood International airport on Feb. 7 by agents who asked him what religion he practiced. (The Department of Homeland Security claims it does not discriminate against travelers on the basis of their religion.) Ali Jr. is a native-born American citizen.
  • Egyptian-born French scholar Henry Rousso—an expert on the WWII “Vichy” French regime’s Holocaust-abetting collaboration with Nazi Germany—was detained for 10 hours at the Houston George Bush International Airport before being told that an “inexperienced” agent had targeted him under the mistaken belief that a stipend he was to receive for an appearance at Texas A&M constituted a violation of his visa.
  • The Australian author of the childrens’ book Ten Little Fingers—which, in an especially on-the-nose twist, is about celebrating the common humanity that children share with other children from all over the world—said publicly that she had been detained for nearly two hours at the Los Angeles International Airport by border agents on Feb. 6. The author, Mem Fox, was en route to a conference in Milwaukee and, as in Rousso’s case, agents were apparently suspicious that she was being paid for her trip.

Earlier this month, a native-born American citizen and NASA engineer named Sidd Bikkannavar said that border agents at the Houston airport detained him, seized his phone, and coerced him into giving up his PIN number on Jan. 30. A former Norwegian prime minister named Kjell Magne Bondevik was detained and questioned for an hour at Dulles airport in Virginia, apparently because he had visited Iran in 2014, on Jan. 31.

Several recent analyses of flight and tour bookings, meanwhile, indicate that foreign travel to the United States may be on the verge of falling significantly.