by Sameera Hafiz
Policy Director, Rights Working Group
Rights Working Group, alongside our members and allied organizations, has been urging Congress to adopt a ban on racial profiling within comprehensive immigration reform. Racial profiling is the use of race, ethnicity, religion, gender and/or national origin by law enforcement agents in deciding whom to investigate, arrest or detain, in the absence of a specific suspect description.
The Senate Gang of Eight took an important step forward when they included a racial profiling ban in the immigration bill they drafted. This bill will be debated by the Senate in June. The ban that is currently in the bill would prohibit federal law enforcement officers from profiling on the basis of race and ethnicity. Unfortunately, this language does not go far enough to protect communities of color in the United States. We continue to seek a ban on racial profiling in immigration reform that is strong, inclusive and enforceable. This ban should prohibit profiling on the basis of religion and national origin and law enforcement agents should not be able to profile in the name of border and national security.
A prohibition on racial profiling in immigration reform is integral to our communities. The use of racial profiling has increased at an alarming rate over the past decade. Resources devoted to immigration and border enforcement have skyrocketed without establishing meaningful protections against racial profiling and other human rights abuses. We see this in the growing partnerships between the Department of Homeland Security and state and local law enforcement agencies such as Secure Communities and the 287(g) program. These programs have led to an increase in pre-textural stops by local police, who target people of color to check their immigration status. Border Patrol agents have been known to respond to 911 calls when the caller has an accent or speaks English as a second language and they regularly patrol public roads and board trains and buses, demanding detailed immigration papers from people of color. Immigration reform must address these practices and create an enforceable ban against racial profiling.
This matters for women and families. Black women are more likely to be suspected of and stopped for carrying drugs by customs officials than other groups; Muslim women who wear hijab, a religious head covering, are subject to heightened screening at airports and borders; and women and girls who identify as or are perceived as lesbian, bisexual, transgender or queer are subject to increased harassment, targeting, and the danger of sexual assault at the hands of law enforcement. Immigrant women and families who need to turn to local law enforcement when they are victims of domestic violence, sexual assault or other crimes are unable to do so if they fear they will be targeted by police for immigration enforcement. Racial profiling is ineffective, makes us less safe and it is dehumanizing. Racial profiling goes against the United States’ founding principles of fairness, equal protection and non-discrimination. We must all stand together to ensure that racial profiling has no place in law enforcement and urge Congress to include a strong, inclusive and enforceable prohibition against profiling within immigration reform.
Sameera Hafiz, the Policy Director at the Rights Working Group (RWG), leads and coordinates coalition advocacy efforts and develops strategies to advance RWG’s policy agenda.