Immigration officials reportedly questioned Muhammad Ali, Jr. about his Muslim faith

Ali Jr.’s lawyer argues it’s a sign that Trump’s travel ban targets Muslims and is still being enforced despite court injunctions.

Demonstrators against the Muslim ban at Los Angeles International Airport on February 4. CREDIT: AP Photo/Reed Saxon
Demonstrators against the Muslim ban at Los Angeles International Airport on February 4. CREDIT: AP Photo/Reed Saxon

Muhammad Ali, Jr., son of legendary boxer Muhammad Ali, is saying he was detained by immigration officials for hours and questioned about his Muslim religion upon arrival in the U.S.

Ali and his mother Khalilah Camacho-Ali had landed at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on February 7 on their way back from Jamaica. According to their lawyer Chris Mancini, who spoke with the Miami New Times and the Louisville Courier-Journal, they were pulled aside thanks to their Arabic sounding names. Camacho-Ali showed officials a photograph of her and her late ex-husband and was allowed to go, but Ali Jr. was detained for about two hours.

During that time, according to Mancini, immigration officers asked him for his name, date of birth, birthplace, and religion. Ali Jr. was born in Philadelphia, carries a U.S. passport, and has no criminal record. Mancini also said that neither he nor his mother have been detained before despite frequent international travel.

Mancini said that while he was detained, Ali Jr. was repeatedly asked questions such as, “Are you Muslim?” and “Where did you get your name from?” When Ali Jr. told them that he is Muslim, officers continued to question him about his religion and birthplace. He was eventually released.

The incident took place after President Trump signed an executive order banning citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. for at least three months. While the White House has defended it as necessary to protect the country’s security from terrorist threats, Ali Jr.’s experience appears to expose its use to target people based on their Muslim faith. That could reinforce the case that the order violates the Constitution’s ban on religious discrimination.

It also may prove that while judges have halted the ban from taking effect, border agents are still acting upon it.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection said in an email to ThinkProgress, “Due to the restrictions of the Privacy Act, U.S. Customs and Border Protection cannot discuss individual travelers; however, all international travelers arriving in the U.S. are subject to CBP inspection.”

“To the Ali family, it’s crystal clear that this is directly linked to Mr. Trump’s efforts to ban Muslims from the United States,” Mancini said. “There was no other basis for a secondary inspection. This is an instance where the ban has been enforced even though it has been thrown out. The government is still trying to find grounds to keep Muslims out.”

“What right does the United States have to inquire about somebody’s religion when they enter the country?” he added. “I don’t know what is going on with Mr. Trump’s claim that his ban is not religion-based. We do not discriminate in this country based on religion.” He and the Ali family are considering filing a federal lawsuit.

The news of Ali Jr.’s detention came on the same day as a draft report from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)’s Intelligence and Analysis unit was leaked to the public in which it found that the ban’s reliance on country of origin isn’t an effective way to combat terrorism. The report, prepared as part of an internal review requested by the Trump administration, looked at unclassified data on citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen, the seven countries impacted by the Muslim ban. The author found that “country of citizenship is unlikely to be a reliable indicator of potential terrorist activity.”

It also found that of the 82 people who the U.S. determined were inspired by a foreign terrorist organization to attack the country since March 2011, a little more than half were born here in the U.S. The rest were from 26 countries, with no one country representing a large majority. And even among the top countries in this group, only two impacted by the Muslim ban, Somalia and Iraq, were represented.

A DHS spokesperson told the AP that the report is not complete nor final. By Friday evening the White House had already dismissed the report as “politically motivated and poorly researched,” according to the Wall Street Journal.

Trump has promised to release a new version of the ban, although White House senior adviser Stephen Miller has already said it will only have “minor technical differences” with the original order. While the new plan was expected to be released this week, the White House announced on Wednesday that it was being delayed until next week.