Boxing legend Muhammad Ali’s son Ali Junior was detained and questioned twice in the space of two months (Photo: Creative Commons)
Boxing legend Muhammad Ali’s son was again detained and questioned at an airport in Washington before being allowed to board a flight to Fort Lauderdale after meeting with lawmakers to discuss last month’s airport detention incident.
On February 7, Muhammad Ali Junior, 44, and his mother, Khalilah Camacho Ali, 67, were stopped at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport after returning from Jamaica. They traveled to Washington on March 8 without incident to speak to members of a Congressional subcommittee on border security about that experience. When Ali attempted to board a JetBlue Airways flight home to Florida March 10 he was again detained for 20 minutes.
His Attorney Chris Mancini said Ali spoke to Department of Homeland Security officials by telephone and showed his driver’s license and passport before he was allowed to board. “Going to Washington obviously opened up a can of worms at DHS,” said Mancini.
Florida Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who was on the same flight, tweeted a photo with Ali after he was allowed to board and wrote: “On way home on domestic flight Muhammad Ali Jr. detained again … Religiously profiling son of ‘The Greatest’ will not make us safe.”
Speaking about his first detention Ali Junior, said he felt “violated” after he was detained by immigration officials at a Florida airport and questioned about his religion in a case he insists was of unconstitutional profiling. Returning from a Black History Month event in Jamaica with his mother Khalilah Camacho Ali, the pair were pulled aside and separated from each other on February 7 at the immigration checkpoint at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
Khalilah who was Muhammad Ali’s second wife was released a short time later after showing a photo of herself with her ex-husband, Mancini said. But Ali Junior was not carrying a photo of his world-famous boxer father.
Ali Junior was detained for almost two hours, despite showing them his passport and driver’s license as well as telling customs officials that he’s the boxing legend’s son and a native-born US citizen; the younger Ali said he was made to feel like an outsider in his own country.
“I am a US citizen… [but on that day] I felt like an immigrant,” he said. Officials first asked him his name. “Then they asked me, ‘Who gave you that name?’ That is how I was born, with that name. My father and mother named me,” he said. Despite telling agents he was the son of Muhammad Ali, he was asked about his religion. “I said I am a Muslim. He [the official] said ‘OK’,” Ali Junior said. “I guess they didn’t believe me so they took me to another room and he asked me again the same questions,” he said.
Ali Junior said he waited in the room for about two hours before he was told: “You’re free to go”. No one offered an apology. He said he felt his rights had been violated. “I believe it will happen again, knowing that Donald trump is president,” he said.
The incident left him so badly shaken. Ali Junior said he experienced emotions similar to those after his father died in June 2016. “It makes me feel like I was at my father’s funeral. I don’t know what to think. I was lost for words,” he said, but added, if his father were alive he would have told him: “You are a Muslim and speak”. “I felt like I was religiously profiled, I felt violated,” said Ali Junior.
Mancini said, “From the way they were treated, from what was said to them, they can come up with no other rational explanation except they fell into a profiling program run by customs, which is designed to obtain information from anyone who says they’re a Muslim It’s quite clear that what triggered his detention was his Arabic name and his religion,”.
US Customs and Border Protection spokesman, Daniel Hetlage, confirmed that Ali Junior was held for questioning by customs officers, but said: “it wasn’t because he’s a Muslim and it wasn’t because of his Arabic-sounding name.”
The Agency said that its officers process more than 1.2 million travellers daily with “vigilance and in accordance with the law.” It said it does not discriminate based on religion, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation.
“We treat all travellers with respect and sensitivity…integrity is our cornerstone. We are guided by the highest ethical and moral principles,” insisted the Agency. During his detention, Ali Junior was asked repeatedly about his lineage and his name, “as if that was a pre-programmed question that was part of a profile,” Mancini said.
Ali Junior and his mother have been frequent global travellers. The family connects their treatment to President Donald Trump’s efforts to restrict immigration after calling during his campaign for a ban on Muslims entering the US.
“This has never happened to them before. They’re asked specifically about their Arabic names. Where they got their names from and whether they’re Muslims. It doesn’t take much to connect those dots to what Trump is doing.” Mancini said.