Are we still the United States?

Is The United States Still The United States?

My 10-hour detention at the Houston airport suggests otherwise.

02/27/2017 09:57 am ET | Updated 5 hours ago

A Continental Airlines Inc. Boeing plane lands at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, Texas, U.S..

On February 22, I was arrested at 2:30 p.m. at the George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston landing from Paris. I had to attend a symposium at Texas A&M University. I was interrogated for several hours following a random check of Customs and Borders Protection. Because I was in possession of a simple tourist visa, the policeman who was in charge of my case explained that I wasn’t allowed to give a lecture and receive an honorarium. I replied that it was the university that did all the formalities and that I have been doing this for 30 years without any trouble. 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. He concluded that I was returning to work “illegally” in the U.S. with an expired visa. I was therefore in breach, a decision confirmed by his hierarchical superior who I didn’t have a chance to meet.

This was followed by an extensive interrogation, the recording of my fingerprints, a search of the body in order. I protested, but “this is the procedure.” The policeman then informed me that I would be deported back to Paris on the next plane. He added that I will never be able to enter the country again without a specific visa. I couldn’t do anything but call my colleague from the university. The policeman called the consulate of France, but after several hours and with an inappropriate number, so I couldn’t benefit from this assistance.

During my detention, which lasted a total of ten hours, I mostly sat in a chair, without a telephone, but with the possibility to drink or eat. Most policemen had a regulatory tone, but some sneered discreetly as they watched the population under their control. A female police officer bawled at a woman whose three-year-old was running in all directions. A man suddenly had to sit down after getting up to inquire about his case because three police officers immediately reacted.

I cannot stop thinking of all those who suffer these humiliations and legal violence without the protections I was able to benefit from.

By 9:00 p.m., there were only half a dozen people left. I was the only European, the only “Caucasian.” Two police officers arrived and headed for the gentleman seated in front of me, maybe a Mexican. They were coming to take him to the boarding gate. Then they handcuffed him, chained him at the waist, and shackled him. I couldn’t believe it and I wondered if I would have to endure the same fate. As far as I have understood from what an officer told me later, this was indeed the procedure for all the people to be deported, a shameful practice apparently required by the airline companies.

At 1:30 a.m. ― I had left Paris over 26 hours earlier ― a policeman summons me, gives me back my phone and my passport, and declares me eligible to enter the United States. The restrictions imposed on me are lifted – but I don’t know what will remain in the files. He explains that the officer who examined my case was “inexperienced” and didn’t know that some activities, including those related to education, enjoyed an exceptional regime and could be carried out with a simple tourist visa. He lets me know that, having a lot of experience, he saw the problem when he took his post earlier in the night. He is kind enough to drive me out of the airport, a totally deserted place, telling me the address of a hotel nearby. At no time did he or his colleagues apologize. I will later learn that my release was not fortuitous. It is the result of my colleague’s call to the president of Texas A&M, who immediately alerted a law professor in charge of immigration issues. Without them, I would have probably been handcuffed, chained, and shackled back to Paris.

This incident has caused me some discomfort, but I cannot stop thinking of all those who suffer these humiliations and legal violence without the protections I was able to benefit from. A professional historian, I am aware of hasty interpretations. Meanwhile, I can raise some questions. Why did the random check fall on me? My “case” visibly presented a problem before even thorough examination. Maybe it’s my birthplace, Egypt, maybe my academic status, maybe my recent work visa expired, maybe my French citizenship too. Perhaps also, the current context. Even if I had made a mistake, which was not the case, did I deserve such treatment? How can one explain this zeal if not by the concern to fulfill quotas and justify increased controls? That is the situation today in this country. We must now face arbitrariness and incompetence at all levels. I heard recently that “Paris isn’t Paris anymore.” The United States seems no longer quite the United States.


This is one story amid many of immigrant stories of the encounters with border officers which need to be told. The humiliation and anxiety that is inflicted on travelers coming into our country is totally unnecessary. It is not the American way to shame and mistreat people. I don’t care what color, religion or economic status they are in.


In the course of my career, I have worked with many so called minorities, and people of color, people of other religions and economic status. I have really enjoyed these relationships and found that I have grown immensely. The terrorists arrested for terroristic acts here in America, were born here. The radicalization took place here in America. It did not happen in Muslim countries. The reports have been released and there is no reason for a new travel ban.


There is no reason to humiliate or shame people for coming to America. They come for education, jobs, to join other family members, and to make their dreams come true. This is the reason both sets of my grandparents immigrated here from England and Croatia. They were hard working, wonderful role models, and proud Americans. This is the time to encourage immigrants who have been detained or harassed when coming to America. The Senate needs to hear these stories. The media needs to hear these stories, and we all need to tell them.




Ladies Need to Follow Their Instincts and Passions

Eve was the first woman to flee and find adventure. Intrepid women travelers have been pushing up against man-made boundaries and shocking their societies.

The first woman to document her travels was a nun named Etheria. In 381 A.D.
She wandered to Jerusalem and continued on to Egypt searching for freedom of choice.

In 1784, Elizabeth Thible became the first women to travel in a hot-air balloon because she knew the sky was not the limit.

Nellie Bly, an American journalist and Victorian lady traveled around the world in seventy-two days, six hours, and eleven minutes. What an inspiration to us in the twenty-first century!

Women have been having adventures and conquering their fears for centuries. They caused family scandles and much gossip in their lives. However, they didn’t listen to the people who said no, you can’t do this. They knew their hearts and went anyway. I am sure they were afraid at times but they grabbed onto life with all of the strength they had and held on for dear life!

Julia Archibald Holmes climbed Pike’s Peak in 1858 and wrote, “I have accomplished the task which I marked out for myself. Nearly everyone tried to discourage me from attempting it, but I believed that I should succeed.”

” Life seems to throw many more adventures your way when you are prepared, it is very sexy to know how to take care of yourself,” by an Italian woman named Sylvania.

Life can be scary and we can at times be filled with anxiety and hesitancy. We are here to experience life, and I don’t mean just the men. It is important to grab on to whatever is close-by and hold on. Allow yourself to laugh and love, eat and cry. This is life.

There are many books published documenting the adventures of women and they give us the luxury of sitting on a beach and walk in a Rainforest. You can absorb their experiences vicariously.

I have a friend who is a college professor of Photography. We have traveled together in days past when I was more mobile. She is a birder as well and has traveled from Peru to Siberia. I am lucky enough to see her slides and enjoy her stories. She is such a rich font of experiences and a true inspiration to her students.

I encourage every woman to visit their dreams and feel their strength. Take that step that will eventually take you to a rich and passionate life. If family or friends think of you as too wild, remember that ‘wild women don’t get the blues’.

There are several books that you could read and perhaps inspire the adventurer within. Spinsters Abroad; Victorian Lady Explorers by Dea Birkett. Living with Cannibals and Other Women’s Adventures by Michele Slung and a really good one called Unsuitable for Ladies by Jane Robinson.

Your adventures may be joining the YMCA, or joining a quilting circle, taking classes, vacationing on the Galapagos Islands. Take skating lessons, read a new author, buy a wide brim hat just because they are coming back into style.
Have fun and enjoy conquering your world. I did and have no regrets.

French Quarters, New Orleans; Photo by Barbara Mattio

Johnson Space Center, Houston, Tx.; Photo by Barbara Mattio

The Alamo, San Antonio, Tx.; Photo by Barbara Mattio