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 theguardian.com