High-Profile Customs Nightmares Worry US Travel Industry - NBC 10 Philadelphia

High-Profile Customs Nightmares Worry US Travel Industry

Here is a look at some of the cases in recent weeks that have the travel industry worried



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    The son of a recently deceased global icon, a beloved Australian children's book author, a renowned authority on the Holocaust and a U.S. Olympic fencer. What do they have in common? In recent weeks each has recounted harrowing details of being caught in a customs nightmare when trying to enter the United States.

    As those stories and others were grabbing headlines, NYC & Company, the city’s tourism marketing agency, released an ominous forecast directly tied to new immigration enforcement policies.

    "Following tourism growth over the last seven years, this new forecast shows a drop in inbound international travel to New York City this year at a loss of 300,000 visitors compared to 2016," the tourism agency said Tuesday in a statement. "This is the first drop in visitation since the start of the recession in 2008." 

    Here is a look at some of the high-profile cases in recent weeks that have the travel industry worried.

    Early February: While returning from Montego Bay, Jamaica, Muhammad Ali Jr. and Ali's first wife, Khalilah Camacho-Ali, were detained by immigration officers at Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. 

    He asked me 'What is your religion?' And I was like why would you ever ask me what my religion is, does it matter," Ali Jr. told MSNBC's Stephanie Ruhle.

    U.S. Customs and Border Protection denied Ali was stopped because of his religion.

    Feb. 6: Australian children’s-book author Mem Fox was detained following a flight from Melbourne to Los Angeles. Fox, on her way to a paid speaking engagement in Milwaukee to deliver a speech about the importance of diversity, said she ran afoul of immigration officials when she revealed she was receiving a fee for her appearance. 

    Fox said she left humiliated by the experience. In an opinion written piece for the Guardian, the author said the incident fundamentally changed the way she felt about the United States.

    "In that moment I loathed America. I loathed the entire country," she wrote. "And it was my 117th visit to the country so I know that most people are very generous and warm-hearted. They have been wonderful to me over the years. I got over that hatred within a day or two. But this is not the way to win friends, to do this to someone who is Australian when we have supported them in every damn war. It’s absolutely outrageous." 

    When asked for comment about Fox’s account of her ordeal, Jaime Ruiz, a spokesperson for U.S. Customs and Border Protection at LAX, cited privacy concerns and told NBC he could not speak directly about her incident. The spokesman instead offered a blanket statement reading in part, "Our dual mission is to facilitate travel in the United States while we secure our borders, our people and our visitors from those that would do us harm like terrorists and terrorist weapons, criminals, and contraband."

    Feb. 9:In an interview with Popsugar.com, U.S. Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad, the first woman to wear a hijab while competing for the United States in the Olympics, revealed she was detained by customs at an airport.

    "I personally was held at customs for two hours just a few weeks ago. I don't know why. I can't tell you why it happened to me, but I know that I'm Muslim. I have an Arabic name. And even though I represent Team USA and I have that Olympic hardware, it doesn't change how you look and how people perceive you," Muhammad said.

    "Unfortunately, I know that people talk about this having a lot to do with these seven countries in particular, but I think the net is cast a little bit wider than we know. And I'm included in that as a Muslim woman who wears a hijab," she said.

    Feb. 22: French historian Henry Rousso, a pre-eminent scholar on the Holocaust, was detained for more than 10 hours by federal border agents in Houston. Rousso was told he wouldn’t be allowed to enter the United States before lawyers intervened on his behalf. 

    Customs and Border Protection did not respond to a request for comment on his case.

    In January, the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), released a statement following Trump's now stalled travel ban to nationals of seven countries (Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen) that warned the action could hurt travel to the U.S.

    “Global challenges demand global solutions and the security challenges that we face today should not prompt us to build new walls; on the contrary, isolationism and blind discriminatory actions will not lead to increased security but rather to growing tensions and threats”, said UNWTO Secretary-General, Taleb Rifai.

    “Besides the direct impact, the image of a country which imposes travel bans in such a hostile way will surely be affected among visitors from all over the world and risk dumping travel demand to the USA” added Mr Rifai.

    In an interview by NBC News, Nadejda Popova, a travel project manager for market research firm Euromonitor, also expressed concern about the ultimate impact the customs crackdown will have on travel into the U.S.

    "The ambiguity of these very latest developments introduced by President Trump is casting a shadow over the future travel demand to and from the U.S., especially as many trade representatives are concerned that such changes could bring similar types of retaliation from other countries," Popova said. "The new executive order could also impact how the U.S. is perceived as a tourism destination and how open to foreign travelers it will be in the future." 

    The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Calls to Homeland Security were not returned.

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