A day after Muhammad Ali Jr. advocated for a ban on religious and racial profiling before Congressional leaders, his identity was questioned by Department of Homeland Security authorities as he tried to board a Fort Lauderdale-bound plane in Washington, D.C. It was the second time in six weeks federal agents singled him out for questioning at an airport.
Ali, son of the late boxing champion and humanitarian Muhammad Ali, said he considered the 25-minute delay Friday at Ronald Reagan Airport to be retaliatory.
“I think I was singled out and it was premeditated,” Ali said. “I think they’re trying to make my life hell because of my religion, my name and my testimony. I testified against Donald Trump.”
Ali, 43, spoke to the House Subcommittee on Border Security, chaired by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich), who is sponsoring a bill called the Anti Profiling Act. Ali detailed his one hour and 45-minute detention on Feb. 7 at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport upon his return from a Black History Month event in Jamaica. He said he was interrogated about his name and his Muslim religion.
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On both occasions, Ali was traveling with his mother, Khalilah Camacho-Ali, who did not have a problem obtaining her ticket or boarding pass Friday. She was Muhammad Ali’s second wife from 1967-1977 and had four children with the boxer.
“It was humiliating,” Camacho-Ali said. “I couldn’t believe it was happening again, and the fact that we were simply going from D.C. to Florida makes it ridiculous.”
Ali, who lives in Miami Beach, said he showed his state-issued ID card when checking in at the JetBlue ticket counter but was initially told he couldn’t board.
“The airline agent said, ‘Oh, I’ve got to call Homeland Security,’ and then he’s on the phone for 25 minutes relaying questions about Muhammad’s Social Security number, date of birth, place of birth,” Mancini said. “Luckily he had his passport and once the JetBlue employee relayed the passport number, he was cleared. The thing that was offensive was that one day he’s criticizing President Trump’s Muslim ban and the next he can’t fly. Were they looking for some guy named Muhammad Ali who is a terrorist or what? You don’t get explanations from the government. They use or abuse their power as they see fit.”
In a statement, the Transportation Security Administration said the call was made to confirm Ali’s identity. He was also stopped when passing through security.
“When Mr. Ali arrived at the checkpoint, his large jewelry alarmed the checkpoint scanner. He received a targeted pat-down...” and was cleared to board.
Ali said he was “angry, frustrated and exhausted by the whole ordeal.”
U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who happened to be on the same flight, was sitting in the gate area when Ali’s attorney Chris Mancini approached her and explained what happened.
“It’s not a coincidence that he was flagged after testifying about religious profiling,” she said. “It smacks of retaliation and the continuous religious profiling that is going on with the Trump administration. It’s un-American.”
Wasserman Schultz said she was “outraged” and would try “to get to the bottom of it.”
“This is a family that has fought against injustice for decades,” she said, adding that she had not met them previously. “They have the ability to spotlight when there is an injustice, but I am deeply concerned about other people who do not have such a high profile and are dealing with this type of situation.”
Wasserman Schultz expressed her concern via Twitter.
“Religiously profiling son of ‘The Greatest’ will not make us safe,” she tweeted.