Muhammad Ali Jr., son of the boxing great who made news last week after it was reported that he and his mother had been detained by immigration officials at a Florida airport because of their Muslim names, is speaking out about his ordeal and said Monday that he felt “violated” when he was asked about his religion.
In a phone interview with the Associated Press, Ali Jr. said, “I was just appalled. I’m a U.S. citizen and they’re asking me what is my religion?”
As previously reported on The Root, 44-year-old Muhammad Ali Jr. and his mother, Khalilah Camacho-Ali, arrived at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on Feb. 7 upon returning from a Black History Month speaking engagement in Montego Bay, Jamaica. They were pulled aside while going through customs.
Camacho-Ali, Muhammad Ali’s second wife, was reportedly let go after she was able to produce a photograph of herself with her legendary ex-husband, but her son did not have a photo like that with him, and he was detained.
Ali Jr. said he was detained for about two hours even after telling customs officials that he was a native-born citizen of the United States as well as the son of legendary boxer and cultural icon Muhammad Ali. His attorney, Chris Mancini, said that Ali Jr. also showed his driver’s license and passport.
“I feel like I was religiously profiled,” Ali Jr. said. “I felt violated.”
U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman Daniel Hetlage confirmed that Ali Jr. 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 in a statement that its officers process more than 1.2 million international travelers 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 travelers with respect and sensitivity,” it said.
AP reports that both Ali Jr. and his mother said this was the first time they were asked if they were Muslim when re-entering the United States.
Ali Jr. said his treatment by customs officials is the type of wrong his father fought against.
“It’s like history is repeating itself,” Ali Jr. said. “We’re having to fight for our humanity all over again. And now they’re sticking the religion on it.”
Camacho-Ali said that she was also asked about her religion while being detained for about half an hour.
“I was in a state of shock,” she said. “They started asking me about where did you get your name and where were you born and what religion are you?”
Both Ali Jr. and his mother said that customs officials did not give them a reason for their detention and did not apologize when they were released.
“They said, ‘You’re free to go,’” Ali Jr. said. “I was free to go as soon as I got here.”
Read more at the Associated Press.