How The Detainment of Muhammed Ali Jr. Can Negativity Affect Mental Health of Muslim and Immigrant Children

“Where did you get your name from?” “Are you Muslim?” Were the first of many questions Muhammad Ali Jr. was asked by immigration officials during his arrival at a Fort Lauderdale, Hollywood Airport February 7, 2017. Muhammad Ali Jr. is the son of the boxing legend Muhammad Ali. Muhammad Ali Jr. is also American, born and raised in Philadelphia. After coming back from a trip to Jamaica where they spoke for  Black History Month, the immigration officials approached him and his mother at baggage claim and detained them for two hours. Detainment, interrogation, and other forms of questioning is not uncommon, and it’s part of the security procedures immigration officers partake in when they have suspicion or want to verify an individual coming into the country. However, this situation was different. They began to question Muhammed Ali Jr. and his mother, about their names and religion. Their lawyer Chris Mancini said in a statement, that they were pulled aside due to their “Arabic-sounding names.”

In an interview with CBS, Muhammad Ali Jr. and his mother Khalilah Camacho Ali spoke about their experience with the immigration officers, and say that they were separated during questioning and asked multiple times about their names, faith, and travel history. It seemed very odd to them why are they being questioned now since they’ve traveled all over the world without any issues from immigration officers. In addition, they believe that since the travel ban, though it was not active, they felt its  lingering effects. They stated now more than ever; immigration officers and officials are more inclined to question anyone who they feel is Muslim or carries an Arabic name. The detainment of Muhammed Ali Jr. and his mother shook them, Muhammed Ali Jr. said, “It felt like he was at his father’s funeral all over again.”

Immigration officers have to do their job and it is their right to question individuals coming in to the USA, however they need to be educated on the proper protocols and learn about cultural and religious diversity in addition to how to be sensitive and less intimidating to people they do question. However when the case is based around multiple screenings due to an individual’s name, religious affiliation, nationality and ethnicity, it then becomes an action that screams racial and religious profiling.

Can you imagine what Muslim and immigrant children may be feeling after learning the son of the legendary boxer was detained and interrogated? Incidents like this, further instill fear and uncertainty in immigrants and their children leading them to digress in school and withdraw socially and emotionally.

According to a research report done on immigration policies and health outcomes, “Fear By Association: Perception of Anti-Immigrant Policies and Health Outcomes” shows that the stress that immigrants go through being in a country that is unfavorable of immigrants have a negative impact on immigrants and even their children’s mental health.

“We estimate a series of categorical regression models and find that there are negative health consequences associated with Latinos’ perceptions of living in states with unfavorable anti-immigration laws, including reporting poor health and problems with mental health” (Vargas, 2017).

It’s important for parents and educators to try to find ways to comfort immigrant children and others who are going through mental and health issues as a result of these detainment, deportations, and interrogations of a specific group of people. Children feel and understand more than we think. They are affected by our emotions and their environment which is why we have to try to create a positive one, and one they feel they can belong to. The best way to ease their minds during the current climate is through support groups and counseling as well as educating them about their rights. It is important to educate children and parents alike to know their rights as legal residents and undocumented immigrants in the USA.

Furthermore, it is important to educate non-immigrant individuals, companies, and organizations on the diverse cultures that exist in the US, the journey of an immigrant, and create a foundation where everyone becomes a form of support and protection for our immigrant children and their families. The impression that many people both immigrant and non-immigrant are taking from this immigration policy is, no one is safe and that their ethnicity, beliefs, and language is the determinant to their acceptance by the US or turned back.

These incidents are not going to decline anytime soon, whether it affects you, your family, people you know, people you don’t know, it’s crucial that we remain supportive and informed so that we do not deprive anyone of their rights, happiness, and ability to strive in a country that they are labeled “outsiders” in. That is not the image we want to set for our country that was built on the idea of open arms, acceptance, and religious freedom. To be a real American patriot is to stand up for your rights and the rights of others who want to pursue the American dream that was built on the backs of immigrants dating back to the founding our nation.

Footnotes: “Robert Wood Johnson Foundation 2015 Latino National Health and Immigration Survey (n = 1,493) to examine the relationship between immigration and immigrant policy and Latino health and well-being.

References: Vargas, E. D., Sanchez, G. R., & Juárez, M. (2017). Fear by Association: Perceptions of Anti-Immigrant Policy and Health Outcomes. Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law, 3802940.

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