'Distressing': New Racial Profiling Rules Won't Apply to Airports, Borders

A 2012 march to protest racial profiling. (Photo: longislandwins/flickr/cc)

'Distressing': New Racial Profiling Rules Won't Apply to Airports, Borders

'Focusing on an entire class of people instead of on actual conduct is unfair and harms our national security,' says ACLU's Laura Murphy

Soon to be released federal guidelines on racial profiling will allow Department of Homeland Security officials to continue engaging in the pratice at airports and border checks, news agencies are reporting.

The new policy will revise guidance issued by 2003 by Attorney General John Ashcroft.

Earlier this week, Attorney General Eric Holder said the new guidance "will institute rigorous new standards--and robust safeguards--to help end racial profiling, once and for all," but the new reporting indicates that the practice will not be fully stopped.

The New York Timesreports:

The new rules expand the definition of racial profiling to include religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity. Under the rules, law enforcement officials cannot consider any of those factors, along with race, during criminal investigations, or during routine immigration cases away from the border. Agencies whose officers make traffic stops, such as the United States Park Police, may not use them as a reason to pull someone over. The rules will apply to local police assigned to federal task forces, but not local police agencies.

The rules also eliminate the broad exemption for taking into account those factors in cases involving national security, but F.B.I. agents will still be allowed to map neighborhoods and use that data to recruit informants from specific ethnic groups.

But it exempts Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officials at airport screenings and parts of U.S. Customs and Border Protection--exemptions, the Washington Postreports, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) pushed for:

DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson made the case in a series of high-level meetings, arguing that while his department did not condone profiling, immigration and customs agents and airport screeners needed to consider a variety of factors to keep the nation safe, according to officials familiar with his personal efforts. TSA officials, meanwhile, argued that they should not be covered by the new limits on the grounds that the TSA is not a law enforcement agency.

"We tend to have a very specific clientele that we look for,'' said one federal official involved in immigration enforcement, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. "If you look at numbers, the vast majority of people we deal with are Hispanic. Is that profiling, or just the fact that most of the people who come into the country happen to be Hispanic?''

ACLU issued a statement in response, saying that though the revised guidance eliminates some existing loopholes, the "TSA and CBP exemptions are distressing."

"We are pleased that the national security loophole, the source of many egregious constitutional violations is narrowed. But it's difficult to celebrate knowing federal authorities will still be advised and permitted to target individuals at airports and in the vast 100-mile border zone not because they've done anything wrong, but because of their skin color or First Amendment-protected beliefs," stated ACLU Washington Legislative Office Director Laura W. Murphy.

"Let's be clear: DHS wants to racially profile at the border because, as an anonymous immigration enforcement official said today, 'There's a very specific clientele that we look for.' That's code for Latinos and other people of color who look to DHS police like they don't 'belong.' Focusing on an entire class of people instead of on actual conduct is unfair and harms our national security by wasting scarce government resources and eroding minority communities' trust in government. The White House must insist that these DHS components do not engage in unconstitutional behavior," she continued.

The news of the forthcoming rules comes the same day as a group of United Nations human rights experts said the recent grand jury decisions not to indict the police officers who killed Michael Brown and Eric Garner underscored "legitimate concerns" regarding the fairness of the justice system.

"There are numerous complaints stating that African-Americans are disproportionally affected by such practices of racial profiling and the use of disproportionate and often lethal force," stated UN Special Rapporteur on racism, Mutuma Ruteere.

"African-Americans are 10 times more likely to be pulled over by police officers for minor traffic offenses than white persons. Such practices must be eradicated," Ruteere stated.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.