WASHINGTON, D.C. (Dec. 8, 2014) — South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) is deeply dismayed by today’s Department of Justice (DOJ) announcement regarding reforms to the federal racial profiling guidance.
We join the National Network of Arab American Communities, the Sikh Coalition, OneAmerica, Rights Working Group, the Southern Border Communities Coalition, and the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans in our deep concerns. In 2003, the Bush Administration issued the Federal Guidance Regarding the Use of Race by Federal Law Enforcement Agencies. Today, Attorney General Holder released a federal guidance that will supersede the 2003 rules that prohibit racial profiling by federal law enforcement agencies.
We are particularly troubled by a critical exemption for several key federal law enforcement agencies that allows these agencies to explicitly continue profiling, mapping, and surveilling communities in the name of national security investigations. Formally exempting key Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agencies tasked with monitoring our borders, such as Customs and Border Protection (CBP) – the federal government’s largest law enforcement agency – and FBI intelligence-gathering activities from compliance with the guidance essentially allows the profiling of broad swaths of individuals, and many communities as a whole, including South Asian, Muslim, Arab, Middle Eastern, Latino, and border communities. While the new DOJ guidance adds national origin, religion, sexual orientation, and gender identity to the categories of individuals protected from profiling, the large exemption for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and CBP creates an ineffective patchwork of policies for law enforcement professionals nationwide. It in effect allows federal law enforcement to continue the discriminatory ethnic mapping and profiling of a host of communities under the guise of border and national security concerns.
“Justice and civil rights protections cannot be dispensed on a sliding scale. Immigrants and communities of color risk continuing to be treated as second-class citizens by the very law enforcement officials tasked to protect them. Today’s announcement attempts to take steps to curb profiling by law enforcement, but is deeply disappointing for South Asians and many other communities of color nationwide. The Department of Justice is sending a clear and disturbing message that profiling continues to be acceptable by some law enforcement agents and against many communities. The collective impact of this guidance on immigrants, border communities, and other communities of color makes us all less safe and does little to respond to the implications of discriminatory profiling, which has been proven time and again to be ineffective, inefficient, and unjust,” said Suman Raghunathan, executive director of SAALT.
Raghunathan continued, “South Asian community members regularly experience profiling by federal, state, and local law enforcement agents at our borders, airports, and roads, and are subject to discriminatory and suspicionless surveillance. Arab, Muslim, Middle Eastern, Black, Latino, and border communities experience the same violations of their rights on a regular basis. We have been waiting for years for Attorney General Holder to announce reforms to the federal racial profiling guidance but are appalled at the sheer insufficiency of what the Department of Justice has outlined. While we appreciate the enormity of the undertaking Attorney General Holder took on in reviewing the guidance, our communities will not be satisfied until our government definitely outlaws the use of profiling against all communities and individuals. To do anything less goes against who we are as a country. Indeed, these policies make us all less safe.”
Law enforcement professionals at various levels have long stated that racial, national origin, and religious profiling is not only ineffective, but is damaging and keep residents and communities less safe.
SAALT has urged Holder to institute five key reforms to the guidance to ensure it can be a meaningful tool in ending law enforcement profiling in our country: 1) expand the guidance to prohibit profiling based on actual or perceived race, ethnicity, religion, national origin, gender, gender identity and expression, or sexual orientation; 2) eliminate loopholes for border and national security; 3) ensure the guidance is applicable to state or local law enforcement agencies that work in partnership with or receive funding from the federal government; 4) prohibit discriminatory law enforcement surveillance activities; and 5) include enforceability and accountability standards. As announced today, the Department of Justice reforms are at best hollow, given that such broad exemptions remain.
Excluding key federal agencies from the prohibition on profiling and allowing discriminatory policing, such as ethnic mapping, is contrary to international human rights norms, constitutional principles, and our core American values of equality and justice for all.
Furthermore, failing to expand applicability of the guidance to state and local law enforcement agencies is especially disappointing in light of the national public outcry against the recent deaths of unarmed Black men and boys at the hands of local police. The repeated lack of recourse for these deaths should have also driven the reformed guidance.
SAALT condemns the use of profiling by all law enforcement agencies against any individual or community. SAALT joins Arab, Muslim, Middle Eastern, Black, Latino, and border communities to continue our work to seek a more fair, just, and inclusive society where all individuals can live free from discrimination.