A dear friend from Austria recently endured a humiliating experience while entering the United States at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). I will tell her story here, in hopes that it will raise awareness over the horrible way women are treated by misogynistic US customs and border patrol officials.
The Appalling Treatment Of A Woman By Misogynistic Border Agents At LAX
First, my friend is a wealthy Austrian national who is in her 40s and lives in Vienna. She is a very experienced traveler, has traveled to over 70 countries, and visited many countries in Africa, Asia, and South America solo.
She arrived on Austrian Airlines at LAX to spend two weeks with friends. This was her third trip to the US in the past six months as she has a number of friendships here and was going with a group on a week of camping in the Pacific Northwest. Her final destination was Portland (PDX): she had a flight connection on Delta. She had flown in business class on Austrian. With the money and ability to travel, she spends a good part of each year visiting many countries around the world, including the US, a land that she loves.
Upon arrival, she was asked her purpose of being here, showed a return ticket two weeks later, provided hotel information, and explained about her planned trip to explore the Pacific Northwest. The agent questioned her about money to which she responded by showing five credit cards and cash (and her return business class ticket).
The agents kept asking why she would travel alone like this. She said, “I travel alone to many places in the world. My husband is busy but I now have the time and enjoy it. Why wouldn’t I?” She also added that she was meeting friends here and would be traveling with them upon arrival in PDX.
The agent was not impressed and kept mumbling about coming three times to the US this year. And that it was “strange” that she was “not with her husband.” She even made a joke, “I’ve been married for 20 years and he is quite happy when I leave!” He didn’t laugh.
It Gets Worse In Secondary Screening
He then told her she would need to go to another area for secondary questioning. She was led there and waited. About 20 minutes later, another agent came and asked her basically the same questions and determined that she would need to be taken to a private room for further questioning. She was led to this room and placed in it. She was told to wait and did so alone for 30 more minutes.
After this three agents, led by a female this time, arrived and sat down around her looking over documents. On four occasions they repeated the question in different ways:
- “Where is your husband?”
- “Why is your husband not with you?”
- “Why would you, as a woman, travel without your husband?”
- “Why would you go on an outdoor backpacking trip without your husband as this could be dangerous?”
Each time she answered the same as before and each time got the same suspicious looks. When she again explained that she was meeting friends and she was only flying alone, they demanded all their names, where they lived, and occupations.
Then they pressed her on her occupation. This is where they really got suspicious. When she said that she is a women’s counselor (a part-time endeavor that is mostly done on a complimentary basis to help young struggling women restart their lives) they started laying in deeper with questions.
“So you make no money?”
She explained that her husband is quite successful and she is now finished raising her daughter who is a university student and thus enjoying more free time exploring. Further, she added that her occupation is one that fulfills her and she is more than able to sustain this lifestyle given her husband’s financial success. They then wanted her husband’s name and his business. She provided it. She again joked, “Here’s his number if you wish to call. I’m sure he will beg you not to send me back so he can enjoy a few weeks of peace!”
They did not laugh…
A Stern Warning
The woman then said that given the information she provided, they would need to inspect all of her electronic devices. She provided her iPhone and iPad to them and they poured over her social media, emails, text messages, WhatsApp, personal photos, and internet history. It was now over an hour and a half into questioning and over two hours total since she first reached an agent at LAX.
During this time she was also forbidden to use her phone, make a call, or contact anyone for advice. She was never presented with any idea of her rights (because she had none…) or given any reason for what DHS officials were concerned about.
After a total of three hours, in which she missed her connecting flight, the lead female agent finally said, “We are approving your entry this time but in the future, you may have problems if you come without your husband to the US.”
That’s a verbatim quote…a woman in her 40s, wealthy, and clearly a world traveler, was told that she may not be welcome in the USA next time without a husband with her. And this was a woman saying it!
When she asked if the agents could provide her something to take to the connecting airline about her missed connection, they did provide a handwritten note on a random piece of paper that said that she was detained for questioning and why she missed her flight. However, upon getting to Delta she was told they could not rebook her for another 24 hours as they had no seats. She then bought another ticket on American Airlines to arrive late that same night.
It Wasn’t Just Her…
While she was calm and very patient and courteous with the agents, she described an atmosphere in the public detention room as being one of the saddest things she has seen. She noticed the overwhelming majority of those being detained were women. Many were in tears and appeared scared and confused.
While it may seem acceptable to question a 22-year-old who made three trips to the U.S. in the last six months, apparently a successful, well-dressed, attractive, middle-aged woman flying business class and pulling a Rimowa is also at risk.
The sad news is that I suspect her story was not unique. Foreign visitors do not enjoy many rights when entering the USA. In fact, foreigners can be denied entry for anything: DHS officials may never tell them why they were denied entry, deport them at their own expense for no reason.
If this occurs as a foreign traveler (even if you have a visa), you have no recourse, no ability to talk to outside counsel, and, even be placed on a no-fly list that could take years of legal work and a lot of money to have removed. These decisions are apparently being made by people who seem to lack a basic college education and certainly lack manners or tact.
An Open And Shut Case Of Misogyny?
Perhaps the biggest takeaway in this is to imagine if she was a man. Imagine this 40-something man traveling to the US over the past six months on three occasions. In business class. With credit cards, bookings at top hotels, and dressed professionally. There is no doubt that no one would bat an eye. Ever.
In contrast, all women traveling alone to America are warned of their increased odds of being deported back. Apparently, you need not only a passport and an e-visa, but a husband as well…
As I wrote about yesterday in the context of a Palestinian New Yorker trying to visit Israel, nations are sovereign and are not obligated to let anyone in. But the pretense for the way my friend was treated is simply disgusting. The questions she was asked are appalling.
And in my experience of dealing with hundreds of US DHS border agents in my travels over the years, it fits in with a pattern of practice. The US is sadly one of the least-welcoming places in the world when it comes to dealing with government officials. It should not be this way.
As an American, I am ashamed of our DHS and the many folks who seem to take pleasure in hassling visitors to my country. As a male US citizen, I have never had to experience what my friend did, but her story does not surprise me. The question now is how do we root out these bad apples or if they are indeed following policy, change that policy?