An Open Letter to President Donald Trump, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and Secretary of Homeland Security John F. Kelly
On 22 February 2017, our colleague and friend Henry Rousso, a French citizen and eminent scholar of fascism and its continuing memory in France, was detained for more than ten hours at Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport. He had arrived from France as an invited speaker of the Hagler Institute for Advanced Studies at Texas A&M University. (Professor Rousso’s description of his experience can be found here). As Professor Rousso recounts, although in possession of a valid visa, he was extensively interrogated, fingerprinted, bodily searched, and threatened with deportation—an outcome which, an officer informed him, would have led to him being handcuffed, chained, and shackled. Without the intervention of officials from Texas A&M University, Professor Rousso would have been unjustly denied entry to the United States.
Professor Rousso’s treatment is deeply disturbing to us as individuals who expect all people to be treated with fundamental human decency. His treatment also disturbs us as a scholarly community that thrives on international exchange and cooperation. We attend conferences, participate in seminars, and access libraries, archives, and research centers across the globe. Professor Rousso is himself an exemplar of this international spirit. He has served as a visiting researcher and professor at Harvard University (1986-1987), New York University (1992), the United States Holocaust Museum (2006), and Columbia University (2016-2017). The knowledge and expertise that he brought to these institutions benefitted their students and faculty, and no doubt he also benefitted from these exchanges.
The work of scholars in all fields—the sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities—is enriched through international exchange and cooperation. As we come together, we share our research and our methods of analysis. We learn from each other, enhancing the knowledge that infuses our research and our teaching. The new ideas that help scholars develop more effective medicines, improve technologies, and better decipher the human condition have their greatest effect as scholars share ideas and challenge each other’s assumptions in discussions at conference and seminars. We believe that such cooperation is deeply harmed by shifts in policy and practice that discourage or inhibit individuals from travelling across borders and in attitudes that view such movements of peoples as dangerous and threatening.
The United States is an important crossroads in the international network of scholars and scientists. Through the Fulbright Program and other similar initiatives, scholars in the United States have benefitted from the hospitality of many nations who have welcomed American scholars as fellow researchers and teachers. These American scholars can count on their rights and dignity being respected and protected by their host governments. We at H-France urge the United States government and the Trump administration to protect the rights and the dignity of all people who arrive on its shores and to foster an environment that welcomes those who seek to participate in its scholarly life. Failure to do so will damage America’s reputation and its role as a leader in pursuit of knowledge.
On Behalf of the H-France Editorial Board,
David Kammerling Smith