Racial Profiling Report Calls for Judicial Review of Border Searches; Shows Need for Legislation

June 28, 2000 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON — Highlighting the need to fight racial profiling at our nation’s borders, a special commission established by the Customs Agency today recommended that judicial scrutiny be required for any decision to detain passengers for lengthy periods. The special panel was created by the Customs Service after it came under fire for using racial profiling.

“The current situation at the border is intolerable,” said ACLU Legislative Counsel Gregory T. Nojeim. “The Customs Service conducts intrusive and humiliating searches of overwhelmingly innocent travelers who are disproportionately people of color. It detains some passengers for days, even weeks without judicial review, which is essential to preserving the rights of travelers,” Nojeim said.

The Customs Service proposed nationwide judicial review in August, 1999, but under pressure from the Department of Justice, it omitted the requirement when it issued a revised Personal Search Handbook. Courts covering some of the busiest international U.S. airports, including New York and Houston, currently require judicial review of lengthy detentions.

“The Commission’s review of racial profiling allegations against the Customs Service points up the need for corrective legislation,” Nojeim added.

The report of the Personal Search Review Commission comes only a few months after the General Accounting Office reported that African-Americans and Latinos are four to nine times as likely as whites to be subjected to certain intrusive searches by the Customs Service.

Pending legislation introduced by Rep. John Lewis (R-GA) (H.R. 4001) and Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) (S. 2393) would prohibit racial profiling by the Customs Service and require the Service to report the race, national origin and gender of the people it searches each year. The ACLU released letters today endorsing the legislation.

“We hope that the Commission’s report will spur the Customs Service to embrace the legislation to prohibit racial profiling, which the Customs Service says it already does not do,” ACLU’s Nojeim added. The ACLU has brought two racial profiling lawsuits against the Customs Service in connection with its searches of two African American women.

Less than 1/10th of 1% of the drugs seized by the Customs Service each year are found as a result of personal searches. According to the GAO study, an astounding 97% of the passengers searched by the Customs Service are innocent.

More information on ACLU’s campaign against racial profiling at airports can be found at

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