Muhammad Ali Jr., son of boxing legend Muhammad Ali, and his mother, Khalilah Camacho-Ali, participate in a forum titled "Ali v. Trump: The Fight for American Values" about immigration enforcement with Democratic members of the House at the U.S. Capitol on March 9, 2017.(Photo: Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — Muhammad Ali’s son and second wife came to Washington on Thursday to make a plea to end racial and religious profiling, after they were questioned and detained coming back into the United States from Jamaica in February.
“Somebody needs to turn this ‘humanity’ switch on because we’re not going to go back to Robert E. Lee,” Khalilah Camacho-Ali said during a forum hosted by Democratic lawmakers. Camacho-Ali was referring to the general who commanded the Confederate Army during the Civil War.
“We must step into the ring and fight this thing and keep fighting it until it’s done because it will be done,” she continued. Camacho-Ali and her son Muhammad Ali Jr. are launching a “Step into the Ring” campaign to call for religious freedom.
Camacho-Ali and Ali Jr. were detained and questioned at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on Feb. 7. Ali Jr. said he was asked repeatedly his name, where his name came from and what his religion was.
“I believe they were religiously and racially profiling me,” Ali Jr. said. “It’s wrong and we’re here to start this law called ERPA, it’s Ending Racial Profiling Act.”
“The reason God made us so different is so we can find something in common about each other and come together,” he continued.
Ali Jr. was referring to legislation introduced by Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., and Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., last Congress. Cardin and more than two dozen Senate co-sponsors have reintroduced the Senate bill this session under a modified name, “End Racial and Religious Profiling Act.” Conyers is expected to reintroduce his version soon.
“To bring people together is our mission here. To feel comfortable free to come and go as we please, no matter who you are,” Camacho-Ali said. “I’m just happy to be here and I’d love to join the fight to end this.”
The Alis were invited to participate in the forum titled “Ali v. Trump: The Fight for American Values” hosted by Democratic members on the House Judiciary Committee. They were also joined on the panel by immigration lawyer David Leopold and American Civil Liberties Union National Security Project attorney Hugh Handeyside.
“We just thought it was important to highlight some of the new activities at the border,” Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., who organized the forum told USA TODAY ahead of the event. Ali “has an absolute right to come home, what the heck were they doing?”
“I think that this is so important that we’re doing what we’re doing. [The Alis] came all the way here and have pledged to work with us to make sure that people understand the unfairness and paranoia that exists to too great an extent,” Conyers said during the hearing.
Handeyside said that the airport detentions and questions are a result of President Trump's executive orders on immigration and refugees.
“All Americans of good conscience and especially, especially our representatives in Congress have a moral, ethical and patriotic duty to stand up to Donald Trump’s mean-spirited, Islamaphobic and racist immigration enforcement policies,” he continued.
The White House has maintained that Trump's immigration and refugee policies are necessary to keep Americans safe.
“It is the president’s solemn duty to protect the American people, and with this order, President Trump is exercising his rightful authority to keep our people safe," Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said when he introduced a revised travel ban for six majority-Muslim countries. "As threats to our security continue to evolve and change, common sense dictates that we continually reevaluate and reassess the systems we rely upon to protect our country."