Muhammad Ali Jr. charged Thursday that President Donald Trump's executive order on immigration was a "Muslim ban" and led to his detention in Florida last month at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood airport in Florida.
"If it isn't a Muslim ban, why did they ask about my religion?" Ali said, questioning the actions of the Customs and Border Protection officials. He related his ordeal at a forum called "Ali v. Trump: The Fight for American Values," organized by Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., and Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich. Several other lawmakers were in attendance, but no Republicans attended the forum.
Muhammad Ali through the years
Ali, 44, the son of boxing legend Muhammad Ali, was detained for almost two hours by CBP officials as he returned from Jamaica with his mother, Khalilah Camacho-Ali, in mid-February, he said. His mother was released after she showed officials a photograph of herself and the "People's Champion."
Ali, who is a U.S. citizen and resident of Florida, was held for longer. He told the lawmakers he was asked questions such as "Where did you get your name?" and "Are you Muslim?"
During his detention, his mother said she kept pacing the airport, seeking the whereabouts of her son. No information was forthcoming, she recalled before the House members. "I thought my son has been kidnapped," she said, her voice shaking with emotion. "I have never felt so uncomfortable in my own country."
David Leopold, an immigration lawyer who was invited to speak at the forum, said the Alis' ordeal was one of several manifestations of Trump's "mean-spirited, discriminatory policies" to ban Muslims and treat all immigrants as criminals and security risks.
"No person, let alone a United States citizen should be subjected to unlawful, discriminatory and humiliating questioning by law enforcement," he said, before going on to list several incidents of CBP overreach in recent weeks.
Hugh Handeyside from the American Civil Liberties Union nodded in agreement. He added that the Fourth Amendment had been violated by the CBP's actions in many of these instances.
The four panelists agreed that the revised executive order signed March 6, which restricts travel from six (rather than seven) majority-Muslim countries and suspends the refugee program, is still a Muslim ban. Leopold quoted Stephen Miller, the Trump aide said to be an architect of the original Jan. 27 order, as saying that the revised order would be based on the same policy. "It has been tweaked and touched but it's still a Muslim ban," Leopold said.
The attorney explained that the new order will suspend the processing of all refugee applications for 120 days after it takes effect on March 16. While the original order indefinitely suspended Syrian refugee resettlement, the current one does not single Syrians out. There is no guarantee that the processing will be reinstated after the 120-day period lapses.
"There is no 9-1-1 in Syria or El Salvador," said Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill. "These children will die if they are not admitted to this country."
He said that the policy was simply based on hate. "Hate that instills fear," he said.
As the others spoke, Ali tore bits of paper from the notepad in front of him and twisted them into perfectly-shaped flowers. "My religion doesn't even allow me to hurt animals, let alone humans," he told the representatives.
His mother had a stronger message: She wants people to stop calling Muslims terrorists.
"I didn't call them Christians when they put us into slavery," she said, referring to slavery. "These terrorists are simply criminals. Please don't call them Muslims."
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