By Betul Yuruk
NEW YORK (AA) – The son of boxing legend Muhammad Ali, who was recently detained by immigration officers at a U.S. airport, told Anadolu Agency his rights will continue to be violated as long as Donald Trump is president.
Muhammed Ali Jr. and Khalilah Camacho Ali, who is the boxing great’s ex-wife and the younger Ali’s mother, described their ordeal Feb. 7 at the immigration counter inside the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
Despite being an American citizen and the son of a man revered all over the world, the younger Ali said he was made to feel as an outsider in his own country.
"I am a U.S. citizen ... [but on that day] I felt like an immigrant," he said.
Officials first asked him his name. "Then they asked me, ‘Who gave you that name?’ That is how I was born, with that name. My father and mother named me," he said.
Despite telling agents he was the son of Muhammad Ali, he was asked about his religion.
"I said I am a Muslim. He [the official] said ‘OK’,” Ali Jr. said. “I guess they didn't believe me so they took me to another room and he asked me again the same questions," he said.
Ali Jr. said he waited in the room for about two hours before he was told: "You free to go”. No one offered an apology.
He said he felt his rights had been violated. “I believe it will happen again, knowing that Donald trump is president,” he said.
The incident left him so badly shaken that Ali Jr. said he experienced emotions similar to those after his father died just months ago in June 2016.
"It make me feel like I was at my father's funeral, I don't know what to think. I was lost for words," he said, but added, if his father were alive he would have told him: “You are a Muslim and speak”.
- Mother also questioned
Khalilah Camacho Ali told Anadolu Agency she, too, was questioned about her faith by immigration officials.
“Where were you born?,” she said she was asked. “I said in Chicago and then they said, ‘What is your religion?’ I said that is kind of personal question.
“I said, ‘I am Muslim’.”
Camacho Ali said she was questioned for about 45 minutes but at the time she said she did not consider the Muslim ban imposed by the Trump administration. In fact, she said, her family had traveled to France a couple weeks prior and did not encounter any problems upon return to the U.S..
Residents from seven Muslim-majority countries were banned from entering the U.S. following a controversial presidential order signed by Trump last month, which sparked worldwide protests.
Camacho Ali said authorities should take action against criminals, not innocent people.
"Islam means peace and our religions mean peace. There is no religion [that] teaches hate or to kill someone," she said.
- ‘Should I lie?’
Chris Mancini, a lawyer for the family, said he has received calls and emails from Muslims from around the world who are connected about coming to the U.S.
“The saddest, the most heartbreaking ones are from people asking me for legal advice and they are saying, ‘When I coming to the customs should I lie and tell them I am not Muslim?’, he said. “That is sad,” according to Mancini.
“This is supposed to be a country where we defend your right to believe in any religion you want,” he said.
Mancini also said Muslim organizations are collecting the names of those who have been profiled based on their faith and they have learned that many have been asked even more intrusive questions, such as: “Do you pray five times a day? Who is your imam? Are you sunni? Are you shia? Are you a member of this subgroup or subclass of Muslims?” They are also asked about Islamic literature they read.
Mancini challenged Trump for claiming his executive order did not target Muslims.
“And then Trump has got the nerve to go on TV and says this is not about religion. It is a lie,” he said.
- Class action against government
According to Mancini, organizations are trying to understand what the “government is actually doing.” He said the names of those who have been harmed by the executive order, like Muhammed Ali Jr. and his mother, are being gathered for possible action against the government.
“You collect these people together for a class action against the government. That is what we are in the process of we are trying to do now,” he said.
Mancini said travelers will continue to face trouble at airports unless the government is forced to answer in the courts.
“We have a constituent, we have laws but the government ignores them until you force them into the courts.
“And what we see our president saying the courts cannot review my actions. That is a dictatorship,” he said. “That’s why we have the courts to keep people like him from doing whatever they want,” he added.