Muhammad Ali Jr. and his mother were detained at a Florida airport and asked about their religion as they returned from Jamaica, according to a family spokesman who said they were flagged for their “Arabic-sounding names.” However, Customs and Border Protection said that it treats “all travelers with respect and sensitivity.”
Ali Jr., the son of the late boxer whose fame and outspokenness made him one of the most visible and instantly recognizable sports figures on the planet, was with Khalilah Camacho-Ali, who was Ali’s second wife, and was asked at least twice about his religion, according to family friend and attorney Chris Mancini. Ali, who was born in Philadelphia in 1972 and has a U.S. passport, and his mother, who had delivered a speech on black history in Jamaica, are both Muslim, as was Ali’s father, who converted to Islam in 1964.
“To the Ali family, it’s crystal clear that this is directly linked to [President] Trump’s efforts to ban Muslims from the United States,” Mancini told the Courier-Journal in Louisville, where the senior Ali was born and was buried last June, on Friday about the alleged incident, which occurred Feb. 7.
Late last month, Trump signed an executive order calling for a temporary travel ban on citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East and Africa. The order, which critics accused of being a thinly veiled attempt to discriminate against Muslims, has since been rejected by a federal appeals court and effectively overturned. However, according to Mancini, that has not stopped government representatives from discriminating based on religion, which is how he said Ali Jr. ended up being detained despite his passport.
Mancini said that Ali and his mother were initially flagged by immigration agents for their “Arabic-sounding” names. He said Camacho-Ali was not detained after she showed officials a photograph of herself with her ex-husband, but when Ali Jr. could not produce a photograph of himself with his father, who died last year, immigration officials separated the two and detained Ali for approximately two hours.
Mancini told the Miami New Times that immigration officers asked Ali Jr. about his religion within the first 30 minutes of being detained and again when he was taken to a small holding room where he was held for another 90 minutes.
“What right does the United States have to inquire about somebody’s religion when they enter the country?” Mancini told the New Times. “There was no other basis for a secondary inspection. This is an instance where the ban has been enforced even though it has been thrown out. The government is still trying to find grounds to keep Muslims out.”
In a statement emailed Sunday morning to The Post, U.S. Customs and Border Protection noted that its “officers adhere to the highest standards of professionalism. Every day CBP officers process more than 1.2 million international travelers. We accomplish our mission with vigilance and in accordance with the law. CBP does not discriminate based on religion, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation.
“We treat all travelers with respect and sensitivity. Integrity is our cornerstone. We are guided by the highest ethical and moral principles.
The Ali family has not responded to a request from The Post for further comment.
Mancini told the Courier-Journal that immigration officials eventually allowed Ali Jr. back into the country, where he was able to then reunite with his mother, who had asked local police for help. They were unable to assist because customs officials are under federal jurisdiction. He and his mother then returned to Deerfield Beach, Fla., where they live.