Racial Profiling

Since 9/11, Muslims and people of Arab and South Asian descent have increasingly become the targets of state and federal authorities through policies and practices that result in racial profiling. Animosity has also been directed towards these populations by private citizens in the form of hate crimes and discrimination. 

In his January 2001 State of the Union Address, President George W. Bush pledged to stop racial profiling, saying “it’s wrong, and we will end it in America.”[1] The administration’s post-September 11 practices and policies, though, actually opened a new chapter in America’s history of racial profiling and discriminatory policies.

In a disturbing echo of the United States’ World War II-internment of Japanese-Americans, the Bush Administration shortly after 9/11 detained more than 1,200 individuals outside of the criminal justice or immigration systems, denying many of them pre-hearing release or even communication with family members or lawyers. Most were held on technical immigration charges, most were of Arab and South Asian descent, and most were ultimately deported without any criminal charge.

Around 800 were deemed “special interest” detainees categorized as “hold until cleared,” another way of saying “guilty until proven innocent.” Some have rationalized these policies by reference to the history of arresting mobsters for “spitting on the sidewalk.” However, as James Zogby pointed out, the round-ups “did not arrest terrorists for spitting; it arrested spitters and treated them as terrorists,” usually without evidence of guilt or any crime.

In June 2002, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft announced NSEERS, the National Security Entry Exit Registration System.  NSEERS established a “Special Registration” requirement that all males from a list of 24 Arab and Muslim countries (as well as North Korea) report to the government to register and be fingerprinted.  In December 2002, up to 700 men and boys from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan and Syria were arrested in Southern California by federal immigration authorities after voluntarily complying with NSEERS, in many cases for minor visa problems attributable to the INS. In one year, the Special Registration program registered 83,310 foreign nationals, placing 13,740 into deportation proceedings. Not a single one of these individuals was ever publicly charged with terrorism.[2]

Intensive questioning of Muslims has also been documented at American airports. The Department of Homeland Security Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties is currently investigating years of reports that Customs and Border Patrol agents interrogate Muslims, including American citizens, on their religion as they attempt to re-enter the country. Questions such as "When did you become a Muslim?", "Which mosques do you attend?" and "Have you ever been to a madrassah or studied Islam full-time?" may infringe upon rights guaranteed by the Constitution and federal law.[3]

Racial and religious suspicions are reflected in both public policy and private practice. The total number of reported hate crime incidents in the U.S. decreased by over 18 percent between 2000 and 2009, but during the same period, the percentage of hate crime incidents directed towards Muslims increased by over five hundred percent.[4]


[1] http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=29643#axzz1N1ER5ob9
 ACLU (Feb. 2004), Sanctioned Bias: Racial Profiling Since 9/11, available at http://www.aclu.org/national-security/racial-profiling-911-report
 ACLU (May 11, 2011), DHS Opening Investigation Into Religious Questioning at the Border, available at http://www.aclu.org/national-security/dhs-opening-investigation-religious-questioning-border
  Source: FBI, http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/ucr.  Reported hate crime incidents included offenses motivated by the following kinds of bias:  religious, racial, ethnicity/national origin, gender, sexual orientation, and disability. 
 ACLU (Jun. 22, 2010), Unequal Access to Citizenship for Muslims, available at http://www.aclu.org/blog/human-rights-immigrants-rights-national-security-racial-justice/unequal-access-citizenship-musl