Children's author Mem Fox on The Project.
Children's author Mem Fox on The Project.

Mem Fox border outrage: Author should stick to fiction

POPULAR author Mem Fox said the treatment she and others received at the hands of US immigration officials made her ashamed to be human.

Former Sunshine Coast resident Nina Smith (Hoffman) first read of Mem Fox's outrage in The Guardian.

She didn't hold back on The Project last night either.

Here's Nina's response to the Mem Fox story:

Possum Magic is one of the most beautiful books of my childhood. Mem Fox is an Australian icon, the author of stunningly moving literature that I know my mother, a former early childhood teacher, read to children for decades.

However, her recent article in The Guardian, 'Mem Fox on being detained by US immigration: 'In that moment I loathed America' is exactly the kind of ridiculous, alarmist, uninformed work that exacerbates rather than helps the situation for Australians, Americans, and those looking for clarity in a time where 'fake news' has become an unfortunate part of our vocabulary.

Ms Fox was shocked to find herself pulled out of the queue at LAX not, she says, because she's 'Mem Fox the writer', but because they thought she had come to America on the wrong visa.

This is exactly the job of border patrol.

Although I'm sure Mem Fox the writer felt signaled out, that airport sees 1,700 flights a day, and 61 million passengers a year.

If there is something the border patrol see that is flagged on your passport, or if you've filled out your paperwork wrong, or if you're traveling into the country, as Ms Fox was, without any clear indication of how she would be supporting herself, you're going to be taken into the waiting room.

As an Australian with a flag on my visa, every single time I enter the country internationally, I'm taken into the waiting room.

We build extra time into every trip because for anywhere up to two hours, we'll be waiting to be spoken to by immigration officials.

At some airports, like Miami, the officials are funny and chatty, and will come and comment on what's playing on the T.V's.

At the office inside Montreal airport, they're sarcastic, and roll their eyes at entitled passengers who can't believe the injustice of having to wait their turn.

The JFK staff are patient, direct, and sit high above you on huge desks. You enter the Newark room with the whole beautiful skyline of the city behind you.

In every single one, as Ms Fox notes, you have to turn off your phone. Same as when you enter any government facility, like a DMV or when you're lining up to head through the regular immigration line.

While I'm sure the experience was unexpected for the writer, 'the agony I was surrounded by in that room was like a razor blade across my heart' is best saved for a flowery novel written from the perspective of a high schooler and their classroom bullies.

The truth is, Ms Fox was not 'at the mercy of Donald Trump's visa regime'.

 

I spent time in those rooms while Obama was president, and I'm sure if Hilary Clinton was elected, I'd be spending time in them too.

Ms Fox is a white, upper class Australian, who was confronted with the normal realities of the border system, one that, it's true, doesn't provide private rooms, and may at times seems overly brusque with travelers, but who are ultimately doing their job.

Don't get me wrong here.

LAX is a nightmare of an airport. Getting through immigration takes an uncomfortably long amount of time, and being escorted to the side waiting room can be embarrassing, stressful, and time consuming.

I also understand that as a 70 year old woman, she might have had to pause from not paying attention to her surroundings and reading her book to 'hold the heel of my right hand to my heart to stop it beating so hard'.

But Ms Fox was not under any duress or stress at any time.

She was not 20 years into living in the country, then scooped up while dropping off her child in an ICE raid, like Carlos Slim Helü - and I would advise Ms Fox to read his story in this week's New York Times if she needs to feel the rush of her terrifying experience again.

She's not being turned away at the border, like many of victims of Trump's insanely dangerous seven country Muslim ban.

She sat in a room for a little over an hour and felt compelled to tie her story to that of those in real danger. Ms Fox even got an apology from the American government!

So please, when you read her stories, stick to the fantastical children's tales, not the fantastical adult ones.

Nina Smith (Hoffman) was born on the Sunshine Coast and attended school at Stella Maris and Siena College before completing a degree in education -English and Drama - at QUT. She is currently completing a Masters in creative writing. She has lived in New York for the past five years and is employed as a copy writer for a Manhattan  advertising agency.

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