Mem Fox “ashamed” to be human after US airport ordeal

Possum Magic author, detained in LA for having the wrong visa, speaks out.

Mem Fox speaking at a panel

Iconic Australian children’s author, Mem Fox has spoken out about her experience of being interrogated by US immigration officials during a recent visit toLos Angeles.

In an incident that could happen to anyone, the Possum Magic author was wrongly accused of having an incorrect visa. She said she was held in a room with about 20 others, and questioned for two hours by customs officers.

“They pulled me out of line [and] took me into a holding room. It was awful.

“I have never in my life been spoken to with such insolence, treated with such disdain, with so many insults and with so much gratuitous impoliteness,” she said.

Speaking on Channel 10’s The Project on Tuesday night, Ms Fox said she had never witnessed other people being treated so terribly in her life either.

“The treatment of people in that room while I was there, which I observed, made me ashamed to be a human being. I saw an elderly Iranian woman shouted at full volume,” she said.

Ms Fox, who has visited the US 116 times, called the ordeal “awful” and said officials were taking full advantage of the power afforded to them by Trump’s executive order.

“Good god it's changed. These people have been given turbocharged power,” she said.

Ms Fox lodged a complaint with the Australian embassy in Washington and the United States embassy in Canberra, and has since received an apology. But she said the experience made her feel as if she’d been physically battered, and afterwards she had gone to her hotel room and cried.

“I felt like I had been physically assaulted which is why, when I got to my hotel room, I completely collapsed and sobbed like a baby, and I'm 70 years old,” she said.

Ms Fox was in the country to deliver a keynote address at a literacy conference.

It’s easy for anyone to make the mistake of thinking that anyone detained at the airport must be being held for a reason, but Ms Fox’s experience forces us to imagine how it would feel to be a powerless foreigner, detained for hours and frightened.

As Ms Fox said herself, “They made me feel like such a crushed, mashed, hopeless old lady and I am a feisty, strong, articulated English speaker. I kept thinking that if this were happening to me, a person who is white, articulate, educated and fluent in English, what on earth is happening to people who don’t have my power?”

Mem Fox has written a full account of her ordeal at



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    Yer man
    2nd Mar 2017
    Their arrogance and lack of common sense knows no bounds .Went through Calgary airport on way to LA. The Americans had their own officials to screen passengers going to USA. Rudest officials ever and in complete contract to the Canadian officials. The Yanks think they are God's gift to the World.
    2nd Mar 2017
    Bit of a stretch to blame Donald Trump. I have used an African passport for years going to the USA, and I had presumed that the treatment she received was standard. Poor white, English speaking Australian had her feelings hurt. Poor dear!
    2nd Mar 2017
    Peanuts you sound like USA citizen ...correct ??? well what can I say .... not much because you will not understand.
    If you are not North American then my apologies ...
    Tom Tank
    2nd Mar 2017
    Mem Fox travels the World and has visited the U.S. over 100 times and the treatment she received, and witnessed others receiving, that last time was way beyond bad.
    Personally I transited through L.A. a couple of years ago and had no issues but It was on a standard visa on the way to Canada. In fact I found all the personnel at the airport to be very friendly and pleasant but it was a little disconcerting to see each Immigration and Customs Officer carrying a gun. I suppose that is the thing about living in Australia we don't have that fear that permeates the U.S.
    2nd Mar 2017
    you are correct Tom Tank we only have to worry about our politicians and they are a lot more dangerous than Customs Officers with guns ..... They infringe on our privacy and can do what they want with us ...
    3rd Mar 2017
    Can't say I agree Tom. At least in America there are police and officials and they turn up pretty fast when something goes wrong. I won't go out at night in many Australian situations as finding a cop is appallingly hard and the chances of total chaos if a very bad situation happened is high here as our infrastructure is even worse than in America.

    We have the population for 2050 already and twentieth century infrastructure to cope with it.
    2nd Mar 2017
    Would she rather there were no checks and in so allow the bombers in.
    Yer man
    2nd Mar 2017
    Where do you live? .Which planet?. There are civil ways of dealing with visitors to your country . The Yanks haven't realised that . Who would go there ?Arrogant solar soles.
    2nd Mar 2017
    Well if Trump wants to deter tourists from coming to his country and spending money in the US this is the way to do it! "Peanuts" I feel very sorry for you if you are a black African. Personally everyone on the planet is a homo sapien to me and nobody should be treated like a criminal until it is proven that they are. By the way "Retired" the bombers are actually mainly home grown.
    2nd Mar 2017
    Well Well Well what in hell we will thinking ..... USA authorities to be competent ?????... give me a bloody break they are the most arrogant and uncultured people I ever meet in my life I work in USA I live in there communities in many foreign countries and the same arrogant s and demonstration of power racist and total disrespect for other cultures and religions.

    Only American way and their commands and nothing else matters

    I will never travel to USA I will around Mexico, Canada or from South America if I have to go across that part of the continent

    Do not bother with them they will never understand anybody else ..... Just themselves ...
    2nd Mar 2017
    When I lived in Singapore a few years ago, my Malaysian doctor was in transit through the US on his way to a conference in Canada. He was insulted and treated with disrespect by the US customs and held for 8 hours for no reason at all. All he was trying to do was get to Canada -didn't even want to stay one day in the USA. He said he would never go there again -it happened on the way back (while in transit) too. Border control need to control themselves it seems and treat people the way they would like to be treated in another country.
    2nd Mar 2017
    Disgraceful treatment of a respected older aussie. Why would tourists choose to go there if this could be their welcome.
    2nd Mar 2017
    Hmmm....if she gave a full account to the left wing paper The Guardian then I'm betting she is over playing the whole affair because, similar to people of her ilk, I'm betting she is not a Trump fan.
    2nd Mar 2017
    My thoughts too. I note there was no explanation by Mem Fox of the reason she was taken aside. That is where her tale of woe falls down.
    2nd Mar 2017
    Also, I note that at the end of the article, one of the related articles listed is "How To Identify A Liar"....just sayin'....
    3rd Mar 2017
    I agree Draganotz, she sounds a little dramatic as befits a person who uses words for a living. Can't help but think she doesn't have her eyes open if this is the worst thing and situation she has ever encountered, just walk along the city streets and view the homeless begging for a real dose of reality. Gra has pin pointed her flaw in the sorry tale of woe, there is usually some reason for pulling travellers aside as it certainly does not happen to each and every tourist, it may not turn out to be a valid reason, but there will be a reason. Have to also say that I have travelled a fair bit and never been treated with anything but courtesy and have found most Americans to be quite polite. Good and bad in all of us, it's not confined to one race of people.
    2nd Mar 2017
    I read Mem's story a few days ago. Horrific. One might think that the US was a police state like North Korea and I can attest to the body language of these Gestapo like officers as their intimidating presence is there at the airport for all to see.
    Not sure if we will go back to the US again. The gloss has sort of worn off.
    2nd Mar 2017
    Agree 100% Mick with all of your thoughts.
    3rd Mar 2017
    What a shame MICK but thanks. I visit America quite often and have always been treated respectfully, even welcomed back for another visit but I can imagine the attitude a little far right nonsense might uncover.

    I think I'll visit somewhere in Australia next just to be on the cautious side.

    Hope the skiing was good.
    3rd Mar 2017
    Not surprising when you consider bullies have to go somewhere after school.

    Positions of power appeal to these people as it boosts the very poor self esteem they suffer.

    Normally rules, regulations and values keep them reasonably contained. Remove those restraints and the power trip begins.

    The far right in America is firmly out and it will not be pretty.

    Most Americans I've met in the US are helpful and pleasant but these positions of power go to a lot of heads.

    The bullies in uniform checking receipts in Italy or the grumps in Scotland come to mind.
    And how about the Swiss and Germans who will make you conform for your very own good.
    A. N. Onymous
    4th Mar 2017
    Gra and Margie,

    Did you read the article at The Guardian (link in the last sentence of the YLC article)? She DOES say why she was pulled aside -- third sentence of the article: "They thought I was working in the States and that I had come in on the wrong visa."
    5th Mar 2017
    One of the girls I worked with went to an Asian country with a tourist group several years before 911. They were lined up like sheep by Police carrying guns and had sniffer dogs sniffing everybody. She had nothing to hide but she is highly allergic to dogs and if she had been touched by one or them touched her bag she would have had an asthma attack. They made them put their bags on the ground in front of them too.

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