A month after Muhammad Ali’s son and his mother, Ali’s second wife Khalilah Camacho-Ali, were detained in a Florida airport allegedly for their “Arabic-sounding names,” he says he was held up again, this time at Reagan National Airport on Friday. He and his mother had come to Washington to lobby to end racial profiling, and he was trying to board a flight back to Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
A lawyer for Ali, Chris Mancini, said that as the son of the former heavyweight champion was trying to board a Jet Blue flight, he was detained by Department of Homeland Security officials for about 20 to 25 minutes. According to comments Mancini made to the New York Daily News, they rejected his identification and repeatedly asked where he was from, before allowing the 44-year-old to board after he produced his U.S. passport.
“None of this was happening Wednesday,” Mancini said of the Alis’ trip to D.C. in remarks to the Associated Press. “Going to Washington obviously opened up a can of worms at DHS.”
The lawyer told the Daily News that “quite obviously” his client has “now been put on a different status,” possibly a watch list, that affects his ability to travel without being questioned.
“Upon arriving at the airline check-in counter, a call was made to confirm Mr. Ali’s identity with TSA officials. When Mr. Ali arrived at the checkpoint, his large jewelry alarmed the checkpoint scanner,” the Transportation Security Administration said in a statement Friday. “He received a targeted pat-down in the area of his jewelry to clear the alarm and was cleared to catch his flight.”
As it happened, Ali was sharing a flight with Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), whose congressional district lies just south of Fort Lauderdale. She tweeted out a photo of the two of them and wrote, “Religiously profiling son of ‘The Greatest’ will not make us safe.”
— D Wasserman Schultz (@DWStweets) March 10, 2017
Ali and his mother were in Washington to speak at a forum organized by Democratic lawmakers to discuss President Trump’s immigration policy, which many have criticized for introducing what’s been called a “Muslim ban.” In Trump’s latest executive order on the matter, signed on Monday, travelers from six Muslim-majority countries are prohibited from getting new visas to enter the United States. Although the measure is narrower than Trump’s previous executive order that banned even current visa holders from seven Muslim-majority countries, this new order also has received pushback. On Tuesday, the state of Hawaii said it will ask a federal judge to block the new order.
“Somebody needs to turn this ‘humanity’ switch on because we’re not going to go back to Robert E. Lee,” Camacho-Ali told lawmakers on Thursday (via USA Today), referring to the Confederate Civil War general.
“I believe they were religiously and racially profiling me,” her son added. “It’s wrong and we’re here to start this law called ERPA, it’s Ending Racial Profiling Act.”
The new legislation touted by Ali was introduced in the Senate last month under the modified name “End Racial and Religious Profiling Act” by Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.). If passed, the act would prohibit federal, state and local law enforcement officers, which would include Customs and Border Protection officers stationed at airports, from detaining or otherwise targeting anyone based on race, religion and several other personal characteristics.
“We must step into the ring and fight this thing and keep fighting it until it’s done because it will be done,” said Camacho-Ali, who was married to the legendary boxer from 1967 to 1977.
Customs and Border Protection denied detaining Ali and his mother at the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., airport on Feb. 7 after the pair had flown in from Jamaica, where Camucho-Ali had delivered a speech for Black History Month.
“CBP does not discriminate based on religion, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation,” the agency said in an email to The Post last month. “We treat all travelers with respect and sensitivity. Integrity is our cornerstone. We are guided by the highest ethical and moral principles.”
CBP declined to give a reason Ali and his mother were detained for further screening, citing “privacy concerns.” Mancini, however, claimed the detention was directly related to Trump’s original executive order that was later replaced.
“[I]t’s crystal clear that this is directly linked to 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 in June.
“I felt just like I felt at my father’s funeral,” the younger Ali said Thursday of his roughly two-hour detention, during which he was allegedly asked about his religion twice. “I didn’t know what to think. I was just dumbfounded.”
Ali said CBP officers first asked him about his name and how he got it.
“I said obviously my mother and my father named me,” he told the panel at the forum called “Ali v. Trump: The Fight for American Values.”
He added: “I told them I was Muhammad Ali’s son, and I think they still didn’t believe me, so they took me into a room and asked me the questions again.”
Ali, whose mother by then had been allowed through customs, said he didn’t immediately connect his elongated detention to Trump’s executive order, but did later after further reflection.
“The reason God made us so different is so we can find something in common about each other and come together,” Ali said. “We need to step into the ring and join the fight for righteousness.”