Last month, Muhammad Ali Jr. and Khalilah Camacho-Ali, the son and ex-wife of the late Muhammad Ali, were detained by immigration officers for several hours at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on their way back from Jamaica and questioned explicitly about their religion.
On Thursday afternoon, the devout Muslims — both of whom are U.S. citizens and had all the proper documentation with them while traveling — spoke about this experience at a House of Representatives forum on Capitol Hill.
“I was so violated,” Camacho-Ali, the second wife of the boxing legend and mother of four of his children, said. “This is not acceptable. I’ve never felt this uncomfortable being in this country.”
“This is not acceptable. I’ve never felt this uncomfortable being in this country.”
The mother and son had no qualms tying their experience directly to President Donald Trump’s Muslim ban, the executive order — now in its second iteration — banning nationals from several majority-Muslim countries and preventing all refugees from entering the United States for at least 120 days.
“America is already great, and we don’t want [anybody] to stain that, to take that away from us,” Camacho-Ali said. “I want everyone to step in the ring and fight for religious freedom.”
The forum — aptly titled “Ali vs. Trump: The Fight for American Values” — was attended by more than a half dozen members of the House Judiciary Committee, as well as members of the media and lawyers.
“The experience of Muhammad Ali and his mom is shocking, and it’s an example of what naturally flows from a mean-spirited, discriminatory policy designed to ban Muslims and treat all minorities [as] security risks,” immigration lawyer David Leopold said.
While Leopold acknowledged that this is not an isolated incident, and that immigration officers have questioned people about their religion in previous administrations, he said that the uptick in these incidents over the past few weeks clearly shows that ICE and CBP agents are “emboldened” by the Trump administration and the Muslim ban.
“I want everyone to step in the ring and fight for religious freedom.”
Ali and his mother were on Capitol Hill primarily to lend their support to the End Racial Profiling Act, but they also wanted to reinforce how cruel Trump’s policies really are.
“Someone needs to turn the humanity switch on,” Camacho-Ali said, referring to Trump’s administration. “It’s not going to be an Aryan state, so they might as well hang it up. We must step into the ring and fight this thing and keep fighting until it’s done. There’s a reason why Mr. Trump is in place, and I think that’s so we can all fight for each other.”
Muhammad Ali passed away last June, months before Trump became president. But he was still alive when Trump first floated the idea of banning Muslims from the United States during his campaign — and Ali made sure to speak out against it.
“Speaking as someone who has never been accused of political correctness, I believe that our political leaders should use their position to bring understanding about the religion of Islam and clarify that these misguided murderers have perverted people’s views on what Islam really is,” Ali said in a statement at the time.
Camacho-Ali stressed that no matter what they call themselves, terrorists in groups such as ISIS do not represent the Muslim faith.
“These terrorists, these murderers, these narcissists — they are not Muslims,” she said. “These are criminals. This Muslim ban, it’s insulting to me.”
She added that there is a double standard that doesn’t apply to other religions — for example, even though some slave owners used the Bible to justify slavery, the practice of slavery is not synonymous with Christianity.
“These terrorists, these murderers, these narcissists — they are not Muslims.”
“People who do bad things, they’re just bad people,” she said. “God help us all.”
Since she and her son first came forward with their story, Camacho-Ali has heard from friends of many faiths and nationalities about the experiences they have had with racial profiling, especially while traveling. She and Ali Jr. hope that by lending their voice to this cause, they can help pass the ERPA.
“I hope that by us having a voice that this bill will be passed. I will stay with you, and God willing, this will pass,” she told the congressmen.
Ali Jr. stressed that in order for Trump’s hateful policies to be defeated, everyone is going to have to come together as one and fight back.
“We need to stop building walls, and we need to start building bridges to come together and make a change,” he said.