Muhammad Ali’s Son on Airport Profiling: ‘I’m Not American?’

By Sameer Rao Feb 28, 2017

The son and ex-wife of late boxer and social justice activist Muhammad Ali spoke out about their reported profiling by Florida airport authorities during appearances on television news programs yesterday (February 27).

Muhammad Ali Jr. and Khalilah Camacho-Ali explained to MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle that they were interrogated by customs officers at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. The incident took place on February 7 as they were returning from what the Louisville Courier-Journal first reported was a trip to Jamaica, where Camacho-Ali was speaking at a Black History Month event.

"I got off the plane, and we were going to baggage claim, and the guy from immigration pulled me aside and asked me my name," Ali Jr. told Ruhle. After saying his name, the Muslim Ali Jr. was asked about his religious affiliation before being taken into a back room for further questioning. He said he waited in that room for nearly two hours before he was let go. 

Camacho-Ali, who is also Muslim, said she was only released after providing a photo of her and her ex-husband. "It was outrageous," she said about the interrogation, which was shorter than her son’s. "This has never happened to me, ever. I felt very uncomfortable." 

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said in an emailed statement to The Washington Post on Sunday (February 26) that while it could not comment on individual cases, "CBP does not discriminate based on religion, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation." But Ali Jr. told Ruhle that he and his mother were singled out because of their religion and Arabic names: "If [CPB] says this is their job, you check everybody that goes through, everybody—not just me or just random people." 

Family friend and attorney Chris Mancini, who initially told the Courier-Journal about about the February 7 incident, connected the Alis’ experience to broader Islamophobic profiling enabled by President Donald Trump‘s "Muslim Ban." "We’re rapidly marching towards [the balance between rights and security] becoming out-of-balance," Mancini said in the MSNBC interview. "Why are we now saying our fundamental Constitutionally-protected rights are no longer necessary?"

Camacho-Ali invoked her ex-husband’s activist legacy when describing the policy’s effect on Muslim communities. "Muhammad Ali, everybody knows him as a person that stands up for what you believe in," she said. "I’ve been a Muslim all my life and I never encountered such a thing. We must carry on that legend, because if we let people get away with it now, then there will be no end to the trauma [Muslim communities face]."

Ruhle asked the Alis what they would say to Trump if he tried to apologize for and defend their interrogation as a momentary inconvenience to screen potential enemies. "I’m not American?" responded Ali Jr. "I would give him the Holy Quran and say, ‘Read it, we are people of peace,’" answered Camacho-Ali.

None of the three interviewees discussed any potential actions against CPB.