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Why You Should Care That This Children’s Author Was Detained By US Border Control

mem fox

Recently, the popular Australian children’s author, Mem Fox, was detained by the United States border control as a likely result of Trump’s travel ban. The 70-year-old wrote an op-ed piece for The Guardian, detailing the incident and how traumatizing it was for her. While detaining people at U.S. airports is not new by any means, Trump’s travel ban has brought attention to the problem (and worsened it by giving “unshackled” ICE officers leeway to misuse their power).

Fox, author of over 30 books, including international classic, “Possum Magic,” apparently underwent two hours of interrogation by border control agents who, eventually decided that she wasn’t a threat to the U.S.. This process occurred despite the fact that she’s already traveled to the country 116 times–and you know, writes children’s books. It’s not exactly like she’s a controversial figure by any means. In the piece at The Guardian, Fox described how the event was deeply trying for her, physically and emotionally:

“I’m an older woman – and I was standing the whole time. The belligerence and violence of it was really terrifying. I had to hold the heel of my right hand to my heart to stop it beating so hard.

Later in the hotel room I was shaking like a leaf. I rang my friend, my American editor and bawled and bawled, and she told me to write it all down, and I wrote for two hours. I fell asleep thinking I would sleep for eight hours but I woke up an hour and a half later just sobbing. I had been sobbing in my sleep. It was very traumatic.”

Fox also went on to explain the chilling environment she saw while detained, which has a “1984”-esque feel to it:

“The room was like a waiting room in a hospital but a bit more grim than that. There was a notice on the wall that was far too small, saying no cellphones allowed, and anybody who did use a cellphone had someone stand in front of them and yell: “Don’t use that phone!” Everything was yelled, and everything was public, and this was the most awful thing, I heard things happening in that room happening to other people that made me ashamed to be human.

There was an Iranian woman in a wheelchair, she was about 80, wearing a little mauve cardigan, and they were yelling at her – “Arabic? Arabic?”. They screamed at her “ARABIC?” at the top of their voices, and finally she intuited what they wanted and I heard her say “Farsi”.

There was a woman from Taiwan, being yelled at about at about how she made her money, but she didn’t understand the question. The officer was yelling at her: “Where does your money come from, does it grow on trees? Does it fall from the sky?”

There was no toilet, no water, and there was this woman with a baby. If I had been holed up in that room with a pouch on my chest, and a baby crying, or needing to be fed, oh God … the agony I was surrounded by in that room was like a razor blade across my heart.”

That type of behavior (that poor mom with her baby!) is not only unnecessary, but is an embarrassing example to set about the US to foreigners? It illustrates, to me, that we are not welcoming–and we carry racist ideas around about people who are not white. That’s not OK–and it’s very anti-American. Jews know it well: America is a country made up of immigrants.

This is personal to me. My grandparents are all immigrants from other countries–and came here with nothing. If they were unable to come because of the fact that they looked  different–or were treated inhumanely because of their “strange” last names–what would that say? What does that say now? I can’t ignore that, not just because of my own family history, but because we can’t turn a blind eye. That type of complacency and fear kills people. It killed Anne Frank (who may have lived, for instance, if she wasn’t turned away by the U.S. in 1941).

After the incident, Fox filed formal complaints with the Australian and US embassies, and noted she received an apology from the latter. It’s important to note that Fox is white–which she herself mentions. We have to ask: what would happen to someone who wasn’t white or as privileged, especially someone Muslim? By the treatment of those around her (such as the Iranian), we get an all too clear (and cruel) picture.

Fox was lucky in that she is a renowned author who had the support of other writers and her own country behind her, but if that wasn’t the case, it might have extended her living nightmare. That is a terrifying reality for millions of people who don’t have as large a support system, if one at all.  This incident serves as a wake up call–because we should all care about the welfare of those around us–and stand up not just for freedom, but for treating each other respect and kindness. You know, remembering each other’s humanity.

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