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Thursday, April 28, 2005

Racial Profiling

Joel Mowbray offers a weak argument for racial profiling by implying that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has its hands tied because of applicable civil rights laws. In particular, Mowbray discusses a classified memo in which the DHS "laid out “priorities” for handling illegal aliens who’ve been apprehended within the United States." He notes:
Political correctness can be seen in the classified memo. It explicitly prohibits racial — or even national origin — profiling. A determination for holding an individual cannot be “based solely on the alien’s race, ethnicity, nationality or religion.” In other words, 19 Saudi Muslims are considered no greater security threat — or deemed more important for detainment — than 19 Mexican farm hands.

But don’t blame DHS. It’s the law. DHS couldn’t assess risk based on an illegal’s race or national origin even if it wanted to. For over two decades, immigration law has forbidden consideration of race or national origin.
As was explained to me by an FBI special agent with extensive experience in the field, just because the law says law enforcement officers cannot engage in racial profiling does not mean it doesn't take place in practice. In his words, a police officer who tells you that racial profiling doesn't occur -- even though it is against the law -- is not telling the truth. Similarly here, that the DHS operates under federal civil rights legislation that prohibits the consideration of race or national origin in ways that racial profiling requires does not mean that, in practice, DHS officials do not impliedly advocate it's use, turn the other cheek when it is used, or actually engage in it themselves. In short, the hands of DHS officials are tied on the record, but not necessarily in the field.

In any case, the experiences of many Arab, Muslim, South Asian, and Sikh individuals in the United States confirm the use of racial profiling anyway. (See e.g. here and here.) This is unfortunate not only for members of these communities, but also for the rest of the nation. That is, the actual use of racial profiling is ineffective and provides Americans with a false sense of security.

The common argument from proponents of racial profiling is that it is ridiculous for "a 70-year-old white woman from Vero Beach [to] receive the same level of scrutiny as a Muslim from Jersey City." The response, which I believe is quite right, comes from an email exchange that I had with a prominent federal judge. The judge wrote an article suggesting that "if bin Laden is smart, he'll attack Des Moines; it's unprotected." I emailed the judge, asking if this logic can be persuasively applied to racial profiling as a means of fighting the domestic arm of the war on terror? That is, 'if bin Laden is smart, he'll enlist an elderly white woman to carry out an attack.' His reply, was, of course, yes: racial profiling tells the terrorists whom to try to recruit.

Indeed, one need look no further than Zacarias Moussaoui, a French citizen of Moroccan descent, or Richard Reid, a British citizen, to understand that those aiming to harm the United States and its interests will employ people who defy our profiles in order to escape detection and carry out their destructive plot. Arguing that racial profiling should be used is thus an invitation to the enemy to recruit those who exist outside of our "perceived terrorist" profile.

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