Muhammad Ali Jr., son of the late boxing legend, and his mother, Khalilah Ali, said they were detained at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and questioned about their religion, a family friend said.
Chris Mancini, a former federal prosecutor, said the Alis were returning from Montego Bay, Jamaica, where they spoke about Black History. Ali Jr., 44, is an American-born citizen with a valid, recently reissued passport, Mancini said. Court records show Ali has no criminal record.
Officials asked Ali if he was a Muslim at the primary inspection, Mancini said, and held him in secondary inspection for another hour before asking him again if he was a Muslim and “where he got his name from.”
“He was really shook up about this,” Mancini said. “He was like, ‘My God. What are they going to do to me?’ ”
His mother, Muhammad Ali’s second wife, showed the inspectors a photo of her and her ex-husband together and they excused her, Mancini said. Khalilah Ali carries it everywhere with her.
Eventually, security released Ali. He and his mother kept the incident quiet for weeks, until Khalilah brought it up to Mancini on Friday.
“I was like, ‘holy s---,’ ” he said. “That’s not right.”
Mancini said the family is considering filing a federal lawsuit. He noted that they were detained mere days after President Donald Trump’s travel ban was temporarily blocked by a Seattle court.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman Daniel Hetlage confirmed Saturday evening that Ali Jr. was held for questioning by customs officers, but said “it wasn’t because he’s a Muslim and it wasn’t because of his Arabic-sounding name.”
The agency said in a statement that its officers process more than 1.2 million international travelers daily with “vigilance and in accordance with the law.” It said it does not discriminate based on religion, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation.
“We treat all travelers with respect and sensitivity,” the agency said. “Integrity is our cornerstone. We are guided by the highest ethical and moral principles.”
Ali, the three-time heavyweight champion and humanitarian, died last June at age 74 after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease.
This piece was supplemented with material from The Associated Press.