This Associated Press story has gotten headlines in newspapers across the United States: “Muhammad Ali’s son asked, ‘Are you Muslim?’ by border agents.” The story appears to be part of the AP’s anti-President Trump campaign. I suspect that it falls into the “too good to check” category:
Muhammad Ali’s son, who bears the boxing great’s name, was detained by immigration officials at a Florida airport and questioned about his ancestry and religion in what amounted to unconstitutional profiling, a family friend said Saturday.
Ali Jr., 44, who confirmed his Muslim faith, was detained about two hours, despite telling officials that he’s Ali’s son and a native-born U.S. citizen, said Chris Mancini, a family friend and attorney.
Chris Mancini is a criminal defense lawyer in Fort Lauderdale. With all due respect to my former brethren of the bar, one should not necessarily regard criminal defense lawyers as unimpeachable sources.
Returning from a Black History Month event in Jamaica, Muhammad Ali Jr. and his mother, Khalilah Camacho Ali, were pulled aside and separated from each other on Feb. 7 at the immigration checkpoint at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, said Mancini.
I am not sure what this means. An American citizen returning to the U.S. doesn’t get processed as an immigrant. He only has to submit a customs form and show his passport. At the Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood airport, as at many others, this can be done using Automated Passport Control kiosks, without ever talking to a human being. For some reason, the word “passport” does not appear in the AP story.
Camacho Ali was released a short time later after showing a photo of herself with her ex-husband, the former heavyweight boxing champion, Mancini said. But Ali Jr. was not carrying a photo of his world-famous father — a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Does the AP reporter, Bruce Schreiner, actually believe this? That Mrs. Ali was detained, but released when she came up with a photo of herself with her former husband (as opposed to, say, a passport)? And that Ali, Jr. was stuck in a back room because he couldn’t come up with a photo of his father? Please.
“From the way they were treated, from what was said to them, they can come up with no other rational explanation except they fell into a profiling program run by customs, which is designed to obtain information from anyone who says they’re a Muslim,” Mancini said in a phone interview. “It’s quite clear that what triggered his detention was his Arabic name and his religion.”
This is silly. American citizens re-enter the U.S. easily. There is no exception for people with “Arabic names,” and no occasion to discuss religion. Something did happen here, but the AP story contains no clue as to what it actually was:
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 payoff for the AP, of course, is to connect the incident to Donald Trump:
Ali Jr. and his mother have been frequent global travelers. The family connects their treatment to President Donald Trump’s efforts to restrict immigration after calling during his campaign for a ban on Muslims entering the U.S.
“This has never happened to them before,” Mancini said. “They’re asked specifically about their Arabic names. Where they got their names from and whether they’re Muslims. It doesn’t take much to connect those dots to what Trump is doing.”
This, too, is silly. Mrs. Ali and Muhammad Jr. were not immigrants, nor were they refugees, nor were they from one of the seven countries affected by Trump’s executive order on travel. They were American citizens who, under Trump administration policies, would not be questioned about religion or anything else, and would have no difficulty re-entering the country as long as they have passports and, e.g., their luggage is not flagged by a drug-sniffing dog.
I don’t believe a word of the AP story, except for what is included in the brief quote from Mr. Hetlage. The conclusion tells you most of what you need to know:
Asked why the matter was just now coming to light, Mancini said: “Khalilah had prior commitments as did I and when she finally got in to see me for a legal opinion of what they did, I brought it to the media immediately.”
Yes, I’ll bet he did. Mancini adds that the Alis “are considering filing a federal lawsuit.” The facts of this case may come out at some point, but they will never catch up to the account–mostly fictitious, I suspect–that has already appeared in hundreds of papers and other news outlets.