Muhammad Ali’s family speaks up on religious freedom after airport detainment

Washington D.C., Mar 9, 2017 / 04:45 pm (CNA).- Family members of boxing great Muhammed Ali say they were detained at an airport for their religion and have linked the incident President Donald Trump’s travel ban, which they are challenging on religious freedom grounds.

“There shouldn't be a travel ban,” said Khalilah Camacho Ali, the boxer’s former wife. “If I don't speak up now, they're going to keep harassing us.”

She said Muhammed Ali’s family has been fighting for religious rights “for a very long time,” adding “We are going to continue to fight for religious justice.”

Muhammed Ali, Jr. and his mother Khalilah Camacho Ali, were detained and questioned Feb. 7 at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport as they returned from a Black History Month event in Jamaica, the Associated Press reports. They said they were asked if they were Muslim and a family spokesman charged they were flagged for their Arabic-sounding names.

While Ali's former wife could produce a photo of herself with her famous ex-husband, her son could not. They were separated and he was detained by immigration officials for about two hours, the family spokesman said, according to the Washington Post.

Ali Jr. was born in Philadelphia and has a U.S. passport.

Customs officials, however, rejected claims it had discriminated on the basis of religion or ethnicity. “We accomplish our mission with vigilance and in accordance with the law,” U.S. Customs and Border Protection said Feb. 26, adding “We treat all travelers with respect and sensitivity.”

Khalilah Camacho Ali said the incident at the Florida airport has affected her.

“I'm paranoid. I'm just waiting for somebody to mess with me. That's not a good feeling when you have to travel,” she said.

The ban on new visas for travelers from six predominantly Muslim countries and temporarily halted the United States' refugee program was revised after facing court challenges. The latest version will take effect March 16 and has removed Iraq from the list of countries, which originally numbered seven.

Ali Jr. and Khalilah Camacho Ali visited Washington, D.C. on Thursday to meet with lawmakers and discuss their experience. Democratic members of the House Subcommittee on border security invited them to a forum on the topic.

They have launched a campaign against the travel restrictions with support of former boxing stars Evander Holyfield, Larry Holmes and Roberto Duran.

They are framing the effort as a conflict with the president, using the hashtag “#AlivsTrump.”

The three-time boxing heavyweight champion Muhammed Ali also advocated for civil rights. He converted to Islam in 1964 and refused to join the military draft, citing conscientious objections as a Muslim. He was stripped of his heavyweight title and convicted of draft evasion, though the Supreme Court would rule in his favor.

He died in 2016.

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