Agents from the Department of Homeland Security held up the son of boxing legend Muhammad Ali at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport Friday (March 10) as he was making his way to South Florida, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz reported on Twitter.
Florida Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who was on the same flight, posted a photo on Twitter with Ali Jr. after he was allowed to board and wrote: "On way home on DOMESTIC FLIGHT Muhammad Ali Jr. detained AGAIN ... Religiously profiling son of 'The Greatest' will not make us safe."
"We're talking about somebody who has no criminal record," she said. "He's an American citizen. He was doing nothing other than traveling and who happens to be a Muslim-American."
Muhammad Ali Jr. and his mother, Khalilah Camacho Ali, both born in the United States, were returning from a Black History Month event in Jamaica on Feb. 7 when they were detained and questioned at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. They said they were asked if they were Muslim and explained their relationship to the former heavyweight champion repeatedly.
On Thursday, Muhammad Ali's son and his mother headed to Washington to meet with lawmakers to discuss the issue and their experience.
Ali testified before a Democratic subcommittee on Thursday about his ordeal last month when he was detained by the Department of Homeland Security for two hours in Fort Lauderdale after returning from a trip to Jamaica. "They asked me what was my religion," Ali testified.
Muhammad Ali Jr. and his mother were also calling for an end to Trump's Muslim travel ban. Earlier this week they unveiled a campaign for religious freedom in the spirit of the boxing icon, supported by former boxers Evander Holyfield, Larry Holmes and Roberto Duran among others. They are framing the effort directly as a fight against the president, using the hashtag #AlivsTrump.
According to the Associated Press, Muhammad Ali Jr. feels like he is being targeted -- possibly because of his religion and possibly because of his recent comments that were critical of the Department of Homeland Security's screening procedures.
Late Friday, the TSA released new information about the episode. It said that an 11 minute call was made to verify Ali's identity at the airline check in counter. TSA did not specify why that call was made. TSA said there was a 7 minute screening procedure for Ali because his large jewelry alarmed a checkpoint scanner. TSA says Ali was not detained because TSA does not have the authority to detain passengers.
Ali's attorney, Chris Mancini, who witnessed Friday's encounter, said he believes the TSA statement doesn't address the main issues -- why Ali was flagged and why his driver's license was rejected as a form of identification. Ali's attorney said they are considering legal action over these two episodes.
"I'm paranoid. I'm just waiting for somebody to mess with me. That's not a good feeling when you have to travel," Khalilah Camacho Ali said when asked how the incident has affected her.
The experience left them convinced that they were targeted because they are Muslim and have Arabic names. Khalilah Camacho Ali, who was born and raised Muslim, said she has always fought for religious rights, and pushed her former husband to use his fame to do the same.
"We, as a family, have been fighting this for a very long time," she said. "We are going to continue to fight for religious justice."
Muhammad Ali, a three-time heavyweight boxing champion, also fought for civil rights. He refused to enter the military draft during the Vietnam War as a conscientious objector after converting to Islam. The decision cost him his heavyweight title and he was convicted of draft evasion.
Donald Trump has shown admiration for Ali in the past, calling Ali a "truly great champion" when the boxer died of Parkinson's disease in June. Trump also singled out an Ali exhibit during a recent visit to the National Museum of African-American History and Culture in Washington.