Not Every Immigration Horror Story is Trump’s Fault, Sometimes US Immigration Itself is Incompetent

Sometimes terrible immigration stories are terrible, or byzantine because our federal immigration service is just that — this was just as true before January 20 as after. Not every awful immigration story is a result of the Trump administration.

On Wednesday a French academic expert on the holocaust was detained at Houston airport for 10 hours, and threatened with deportation.

It was after 1 a.m. Thursday when Mr. Rousso was given back his passport and cellphone, taken to a public area of the airport and told he was free to go. He said he was told that the agent who originally held him was “inexperienced.”

Copyright: prestonia / 123RF Stock Photo

The title of his keynote address was, ironically, “Writing on the Dark Side of the Recent Past.”

As quick to the gun that some will be to blame the Trump administration, that’s likely off base. Here’s what we gather happened:

  • The scholar was entering on a visa that did not permit work

  • He was being paid a $2000 honorarium.

  • This is permissible, there’s an academic exception with specific guidelines I’ve dealt with for years in my day job, but the immigration officer did not know this.

Once you’re trapped in the machine, it’s moving heaven and earth to get out. One officer flags someone as inadmissible, getting others to correct their colleague is tough. An immigration lawyer and the Dean of Texas A&M law school where he was speaking were involved.

I once had a Canadian employee travel to Mexico without the proper paperwork. On returning to the US he was simply allowed entry in TN status valid beyond the expiration of his passport. My immigration counsel explained to me that Immigration and Customs will often temporarily rotate employees into different roles and the immigration officer my employee lucked into was probably used to checking cargo. He didn’t know the rules, but faced with an articulate young white kid from Canada on the US-Mexico border decided to let him pass.

Copyright: andreyuu / 123RF Stock Photo

Another time I had a Canadian entering in TN status, which required among other things proof of a college degree. His degree was rejected because it was written in Latin. So we had the degree quickly translated, but he wasn’t asked for the English version when he returned 48 hours later.

Immigration experiences vary widely from officer to officer, and location to location. Portland airport immigration used to have a terrible reputation among Japanese who called it ‘Deport-land’. And I learned a long time ago never to have Canadians come to the U.S. for work via Toronto’s airport.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

More articles by Gary Leff »


  1. The problem is that the well has been poisoned so much that EVERYTHING is going to be Trumps fault now, as it should be. You can’t piss into the well and tell people who get sick they had the flu.

  2. When you combine the Houston incident with the famous Australian author in LA and Muhammed Ali’s son, all in the space of a few days, i’d say there’s a pattern here of bureaucrats feeling empowered to go overboard by the new administration.

  3. As an American with global entry it’s still bizarre flying to the USA from Canada. You do the kiosk thing and when you hand your paper to the border dude you *still* get all the “where do you live”, “why were you in Canada”, etc.. questions. The last time that happened I asked why all the questions given I have global entry. “Oh, look at that. We need to do a hand-search of your baggage.” and walked me into the next room where there were a bunch of nervous looking people. Quickly enough the guy in there brought my bag in and ran it through the xray machine. He looked puzzled and asked *me* why he just fetched a bag of clothes to xray. I observed that it seemed to be a result of my asking questions about why global entry didn’t seem to work. “Yeah – the guys out there don’t like global entry and some of them ask all the questions anyway”.

  4. Rob – We’ve noticed that too but weren’t bold enough to inquire.

    A few give the impression they’re trying to make their job more interesting.

  5. Last sentence, did you really mean “work,” as in work-permitted visa required? I’m sure you know but many first timers won’t know that you never say “work” to the passport control officer when you are traveling for business no matter how low on the corporate totem pole you are. You’re always supposed to say you’re traveling for business, or it’s the quickest way to get entry denied at the border.

  6. Yes, there are a minority of marginally competent people, some with mean-spirited tendencies in those TSA jobs – like all other policing jobs. Trump is empowering those worst tendencies with his mindless, uninformed, mean and unAmerican rhetoric. To say this emerging world order is “not his fault” is beyond naive.

    This is how Hitler gave rise to the SS. Empowering the lowest common denominator to do his twisted bidding.

    Whining won’t help. Laughing along with SNL won’t help. It’s time for this country to show what it’s made of.

  7. Issues with civil servants on all levels can be challenging and, of course, the pervasive xenophobic rhetoric right now is both empowering those predisposed to say “no” and giving those predisposed to say “yes” reason to second guess themselves.

    All of that said, it’s clear that there’s no appetite at all to do the one thing that could dramatically improve the caliber and quality of our government’s front line employees. That one thing is, of course, to pay them a wage that makes these sorts of jobs attractive to people beyond those unemployable in the private sector, and then hold them to basic standards of not only protocol and procedure, but also to basic customer service standards.

  8. I’ve had a number of encounters with border agents, none of them offensive. When my wife carelessly left several pieces of fruit in her bag in Toronto the agents guffawed as they found more and more items, and then joked that she should buy me a beer for being so patient with her. As an inoffensive seeming older white professor type, no doubt it is easier for me, but in other cases as well I have found them to be more or less on my side as they enforce some aspect of the red tape. I do get the feeling that aggressive and passive aggressive behavior would not work with them …

  9. “Not Every Immigration Horror Story is Trump’s Fault, Sometimes US Immigration Itself is Incompetent”

    Wouldn’t that be totally obvious to anyone with an IQ higher than their age? After all, you’ve been posting about TSA malfeasance for years, beginning before Trump even announced his candidacy. Why would CPB be any different?

    I’m assuming the point of that title is that any title with the name “Trump” in it gets 5 times the clicks, as all the trolls descend to express their outrage that he even exists.

    The MSM and Democrat operatives, (but I repeat myself), are going all out to delegitimize the last election. They don’t realize that this is the very sort of behavior that resulted in Trump’s win in the first place. People favorable to Trump are so sick of all this they don’t even listen anymore. So if Trump ever does do something worthy of genuine criticism, no one will pay attention. Have they never heard the “story of the boy who cried Wolf”?

    The same thing goes for Travel blogs. I’ve got news for Gary, and Lucky, and Tiffany, and all the rest: it’s not at all true that 99% of your readers are Very Liberal. Many of them voted for Trump, some while holding their nose because they couldn’t stand Hillary, and quite a few others very enthusiastically. If you want to join the MSM, which most polls now say have a favorability rating of somewhere around 25%, keep on bashing Trump. And when you think you are getting away with it by using ‘slight of mouth’, ie “not Every Horror Story is Trumps fault”, everyone on either side knows exactly what you are doing !

    The Oscars the other night were non-stop Trump bashing, and it had the lowest viewership in 10 years. The rating for the show was 25% below that of just 3 years ago.

    There were torrential rains on the West Coast yesterday: Trumps fault.
    Someone had a flat tire this morning: Trumps fault
    They announced the wrong winner of Best Picture at the Oscars: Trumps fault
    Is there nothing Trump can’t do?

    The “outrage of the hour” on Yahoo news is a picture of Kellyanne Conway at a White House meeting, checking her phone while kneeling on a sofa “with her shoes on”. Seriously, this is an outrage?

    Could we please just have travel related posts on the travel blogs, and leave the anti-Trump stuff to the Clinton News Network and their co-conspirators?

  10. This was just released by Rasmussen Reports:

    Most Say Democrats Hurt Themselves With Anti-Trump Strategy

    Most voters agree that it’s bad for America and bad for the Democratic Party if Democrats continue to flat out oppose everything President Trump does. Even Democrats are conflicted about their party’s scorched earth policy.

    The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone and online survey finds that only 29% of all Likely U.S. Voters think it’s better for the country if Democrats oppose the president in every way possible. Sixty-three percent (63%) say it’s better for the country if Democrats try to work with the president instead.

    The findings are identical when voters are asked about the impact of the Democrats’ reported strategy on the fortunes of their own party. Just 29% say it’s better for the Democratic Party if Democrats oppose the president in every way possible. Sixty-three percent (63%) disagree and think it’s better for the party if Democrats try to work with Trump.

    Forty-four percent (44%) of Democrats feel it’s better for both the country and their party if they oppose the new president as much as possible. But 46% say it’s better for America if Democrats try to work with Trump, and 45% say it’s better for their party, too.

    The survey of 1,000 Likely Voters was conducted on February 26-27, 2017 by Rasmussen Reports. The margin of sampling error is +/- 3 percentage points with a 95% level of confidence.

  11. Robert Hanson – why not stick to your Breitbart sites instead of trying to bully the leader of this board? Everyone is familiar with the blow and bluster tactics of your fearless leader. Like they say – you are entitled to your own opinions but not your own facts. Even you on sodium pentathol would have to admit that Agent Orange lies freely and often.

  12. @OtherSteve Time to take your meds….

    No one is going to “bully” Gary, who has AFAIK the most successful Travel Blog in the world. 😉

    For those that don’t know, Rasmussen Reports is one of the most accurate polls around. Back when other polls were predicting a Hillary win of 6% or more, Rasmussen predicted that Hillary would win the popular vote by 2%, which is within the margin of error of the actual result. In the previous election there was a point for a while where most polls were predicting a Romney win, but not Rasmussen, which correctly predicted an Obama win. And again their prediction came within the margin of error of the actual result.

  13. Aeons ago… I drove down to a land crossing to get my TN visa a day before my flight. No way was I risking getting it at the Ottawa pre-clearance facility the day of. Only problem was explaining to the Canadian border guards why I spent all of 15 minutes in the US.

  14. @ OtherSteve:

    Alex Jones ? I’ve never even even heard of him.

    First you mention Breitbart, now Alex Jones. Why do you pay so much attention to such marginal websites? Are you some kind of crank?

    My ‘go to’ website is Instapundit, (often incorrectly mischaracterized as “conservative”), whose lead blogger is a Libertarian Law Professor at the University of Tennessee. Glenn Reynolds does not do long blog posts on any topic. Instead, he typically links to left, right, and center posts from other websites on the same issue, letting the reader make up their own mind.

    I also read Real Clear Politics, which spans the entire spectrum from Right to Center of Far Left Wing posts across the blogosphere. And of course I have Rasmussen Reports send me their latest poll results daily, which is free of charge.

  15. You’ve never heard of him – but you know the website?

    I’m checking out of this conversation. Let’s never get together for a beer someday.

    Apologies to all for the digression. Trumpsters have me sort of touchy these days.

  16. @OtherSteve “You’ve never heard of him – but you know the website? ”

    Nope, never said I know the website. That’s what I posted: “I’ve never even heard of him”. And if I don’t know the website, it has to be a “marginal” one. Making up your own Fake News I guess.

    Not surprised that since you are clearly losing this debate, based on your totally clueless posts, you are now cutting and running. Which I totally applaud, since it’s a shame to waste my time “debating” someone who doesn’t even understand the concepts of logic, reason, or facts, much less ‘ad hominem argument” But as Obama advised: “hit back twice as hard”, which is pretty much the only thing I admire his having said. 😉

    So tuck your tail between your legs, and run back to your mother’s basement, and lick your wounds.

    Oh, and have a nice day. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *