Unfinished Business

Congressional Briefing Underscores Need for Updated Profiling Guidance

By Quaila Hugh, a Summer 2014 Leadership Conference Education Fund Intern

At a recent briefing for congressional staff sponsored by The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and moderated by Lexer Quamie, advocates explained why it’s critical that the Department of Justice update its 2003 Guidance on Use of Race by Law Enforcement to clarify the law around profiling. The guidance provides standards on the use of racial profiling by federal law enforcement officials, but contains several loopholes and exceptions, which advocates believe render it ineffective.

Adil Haq, staff attorney with Muslim Advocates, explained the DOJ Guidance that President George W. Bush issued in 2003 and the guidance’s many shortcomings, including the need to include a prohibition on profiling based on national origin and religion and the need for the guidance to apply to local law enforcement agencies that receive federal funding. Linda Sarsour, national advocacy director at the National Network for Arab American Communities, spoke passionately about the guidance’s exceptions for “national security” and the need for it to apply to data surveillance activities.

To explain the “border integrity” exception to the guidance, Jose Magaña, staff attorney with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, drew a mental image for the audience to emphasize the importance of closing the loophole. “Imagine the next time you are on the metro. Imagine an officer boards the train and interrogates your fellow passengers about immigration status. He seems to be ignoring those with lighter skin,” Magaña said. “This is justified by border protection.”

According to the panelists, targeting individuals based, not on their behavior, but rather on the basis of personal characteristics – such as race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, or religion – undermines our constitution and creates a “culture of fear.”

The briefing called on advocates and members of Congress to take action through letters to the DOJ, floor statements, and editorials. The hope is that these actions can begin to break down the “culture of fear” and rebuild the trust that has eroded between law enforcement and many communities of color.