WASHINGTON – Muhammad Ali Jr. charged Thursday that President Donald Trump’s “Muslim ban” led to his detention in Florida last month at the Fort Lauderdale airport.
“If it isn’t a Muslim ban, why did they ask about my religion?” Ali said, questioning the actions of the Customs and Border Protection officials. He related his ordeal at a forum, titled “Ali v. Trump: The Fight for American Values,” organized by Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., and Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich.. Several other lawmakers were in attendance.
Ali, 44, the son of boxing legend Muhammad Ali, was detained for almost two hours by CBP officials as he returned from Jamaica with his mother, Khalilah Camacho-Ali, he said. The latter was let go after she produced a photograph of herself and the “People’s Champion.”
Ali, who is also a U.S. citizen and resident of Florida, was not so lucky. He was asked questions such as: “Where did you get your name?” and “Are you Muslim?”
During his detention, his mother kept pacing the airport, seeking the whereabouts of her son. No information was forthcoming, she recalled before the House members. “I thought my son has been kidnapped,” she said, her voice shaking with emotion. “I have never felt so uncomfortable in my own country.”
David Leopold, an immigration lawyer who was invited to speak on the forum, said the Alis’ ordeal was one of several manifestations of President Trump’s “mean-spirited, discriminatory policies” to ban Muslims and treat all immigrants as criminals and security risks. “No person, let alone a United States citizen should be subjected to unlawful, discriminatory and humiliating questioning by law enforcement,” he said, before going on to list several incidents of CBP overreach in recent weeks.
Hugh Handeyside from the American Civil Liberties Union nodded in agreement. He added that the Fourth Amendment had been violated by the CBP’s actions in many of these instances.
The four panelists agreed that the revised executive order restricting travel from six countries and suspending the refugee program is a Muslim ban. Leopold quoted Stephen Miller, the Trump aide said to be an architect of the original order, as saying that the revised order would be based on the same policy. “It has been tweaked and touched but it’s still a Muslim ban,” Leopold said
The attorney explained that the new order will suspend the processing of all refugee applications for 120 days after it takes effect on March 16. While the original order indefinitely suspended Syrian refugee resettlement, the current one does not single Syrians out. There is no guarantee that the processing will be reinstated after the 120-day period lapses.
“There is no 9-1-1 in Syria or El Salvador,” said Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill. “These children will die if they are not admitted to this country.” He said that the policy was simply based on hate — “hate that instills fear.”
As the others spoke, Ali tore bits of paper from the notepad in front of him and twisted them into perfectly-shaped flowers; a subtle reminder that he belongs to a religion of peace. “My religion doesn’t even allow me to hurt animals, let alone humans,” he told the representatives.
His mother had a slightly different message. She wants people to stop calling Muslims terrorists. “I didn’t call them Christians when they put us into slavery,” she said. “These terrorists are simply criminals. Please don’t call them Muslims.”