ACLU Says New Justice Department Racial Profiling Policy Lacks Enforcement Tool, Suffers From Huge National Security Loophole

June 17, 2003 12:00 am

Media Contact
125 Broad Street
18th Floor
New York, NY 10004
United States


WASHINGTON – Calling new racial profiling guidelines released today by the Justice Department little more than rhetorical smoke and mirrors, the American Civil Liberties Union said that it remains critical of Attorney General John Ashcroft for not taking comprehensive and unqualified steps to follow through on his long-standing promise to end profiling in the United States.

“”The guidelines acknowledge racial profiling as a national concern, but do nothing to stop it,”” said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office. “”The new policy guidelines provide no rights or remedies. What is the use of a government document that by its own terms cannot be used to hold the government accountable for its actions?””

The new guidelines were released today from the Justice Department’s civil rights division, which has come under increasing fire over the past year for dropping a number of ongoing cases against municipalities accused of police brutality and racially prejudicial law enforcement.

The guidelines actually embrace the ACLU’s own suggested definition of racial profiling – prohibiting federal officials from relying on racial or ethnic criteria, save in the physical description of a suspect, when initiating law enforcement encounters – but include a broad and largely undefined exception when “”national security”” concerns come into play. Concerned that the loophole could be used to circumvent the new policy guidelines as a whole, the ACLU said that more is necessary before the President’s promise to “”end [profiling] in America”” can be fulfilled.

“”This new policy will legitimatize and encourage the use of racial profiling at our borders, in our airports and anywhere else federal agents can apply vague and hollow justifications of ‘national security,'”” said LaShawn Y. Warren, an ACLU Legislative Counsel.

A concrete example of exactly what could occur under the national security exception was detailed earlier this month in a report by the Justice Department’s own internal affairs unit, which found a systematic pattern of rights violations in the detention of hundreds of predominantly Arab, Muslim and South Asian men held in the months after the 9/11 attacks. According to the report, detainees were held in secret, denied access to counsel and incarcerated for months at a time, even after officials had solid evidence that the men had no connection to the attacks.

By many accounts, the men rounded-up in the detention policy blasted in the Inspector General report were targeted based on little more than their country of origin, ethnicity or race.

“”The war on terrorism isn’t served by allowing discrimination based on country of origin”” the ACLU’s Murphy said. “”Just as profiling in police traffic stops creates an adversarial relationship between African-American neighborhoods and the police, targeting immigrants based only on the country they come from will undercut their cooperation with our government. Just as in criminal investigations, racial profiling in national security investigations is an ineffective substitute for hard leads and individualized suspicion.””

Every month, you'll receive regular roundups of the most important civil rights and civil liberties developments. Remember: a well-informed citizenry is the best defense against tyranny.

Learn More About the Issues in This Press Release