When Muhammad Ali Jr. was first detained by immigration officials at the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., airport as he traveled back from Jamaica with his mother, Khalilah Camacho-Ali, toward the end of February, initially, the son of the legendary boxer wasn’t so quick to blame President Donald Trump’s misguided Muslim travel ban.
“I was coming from Jamaica and they pulled me aside, immigration,” Ali explained to The Root via telephone. “And I was wondering, ‘Why would they pull me aside ... I’m a U.S. citizen?’ So it really didn’t sit well with me. I mean, I really didn’t think about Donald Trump at the time, but later on I figured, ‘Oh yeah, he has that Muslim ban going.’ I figured that out because they asked me what was my mother’s last name. And I said ‘Camacho,’ but they didn’t bother her when I said that because they were looking for an Arabic last name, which is ‘Ali,’ and so they stopped me.”
Perplexed at the time of the detainment, Ali said, “It was crazy because I told them who I was, and so all they had to do was Google me. I don’t know why they detained me for a whole hour and 45 minutes.”
When asked if his passport looked improper, Ali immediately dismissed that possibility. “It wasn’t my passport. The thing is, they pulled me aside and asked me what my name was,” he explained. “They asked me, ‘Who gave you that name?’ Like, for real, who gave me my name? Are you serious?” he recalled thinking at the time.
“And I told them, ‘My mom. My mom and dad named me,’ and they were like, ‘What’s your religion?’ I was like, ‘Why would you even ask me what my religion is?’” He admitted that questions about his religion “threw me for a loop,” but he kept quiet.
“I didn’t ask that question. I was just thinking it,” he continued. “This was my thinking in my head: ‘If you’re doing your job, you just stop everybody and detain them, right?’ I didn’t tell them that. I was like, ‘Well, they’re really, really messed up here.’”
Recounting his feeling about the initial stop in Fort Lauderdale, Ali said, “I felt like an immigrant. I felt like somebody that wasn’t a citizen of the United States. That’s how I felt.”
Upon his release, he recalled that his detainers “just said, ‘You’re free to go.’ I mean, I was coming back from somewhere and they tell me I’m ‘free to go.’ I didn’t get it at all. It was, like, really crazy.”
Worst yet, “they didn’t say sorry. They didn’t say nothing. Just ‘Oh, you’re free to go,’” he continued.
Then, in early March, Ali was detained again before a flight from Washington, D.C., where he had just spoken to a congressional subcommittee about his initial detainment. Ali, who lived in Chicago up until about six months ago, was questioned at the Ronald Reagan Airport before his flight to Fort Lauderdale and was told that his Illinois state identification card was expired, even though 2019 was listed as the expiration date. In that situation, he wasn’t detained in the same manner as in Fort Lauderdale, but it did add to his concern and that of his attorney, Chris Mancini, who is based in Fort Lauderdale.
“I am seeking further action because it was wrong and it shouldn’t have been done,” Ali said, regarding his detainment in Fort Lauderdale. “They shouldn’t have bothered me. I don’t see why they did. I mean, I do see why they did now, but I didn’t think about it at the time.”
Today Ali is convinced that his detainment happened because Trump is president. “Bush was in office, I’ve never been hassled. Clinton got in office, I never been hassled. Obama got in office, I’ve never been hassled about traveling. Donald Trump got in office, it’s the only time I was hassled as far as traveling. So it had to be that,” he deduced.
If his father were still here, Ali believes, he would take similar actions. “My father would do the same thing I’m doing,” he stated adamantly.
While Ali is not happy that he has “to worry about being bothered every time I travel,” he insisted that he refuses “to let that stop me from going where I want to go.”
Being detained again will only make his case stronger, he contended. “If they stop me again, it’s just a bigger case to deal with.”
Recognizing the power of his last name and his father’s enduring legacy as an advocate for religious freedom, Ali said that he will take the heat. “I look at it like this,” he said. “Bad things happen so good things can happen.”