New ACLU of Michigan Report: Border Patrol Operates Far from the Border and Uses Racial Profiling and State and Local Police to Target Michigan Immigrant Communities

March 25, 2021 8:30 am


ACLU Affiliate
ACLU of Michigan
Media Contact
125 Broad Street
18th Floor
New York, NY 10004
United States

DETROIT – Today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan (ACLU) and researcher Dr. Geoffrey Alan Boyce released a new report exposing how Border Patrol, an agency within U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), uses racial profiling to target immigrants from Latin America and other people of color throughout Michigan. The report also reveals how Border Patrol colludes with state and local police agencies to target, arrest, and deport immigrants, many of whom are longtime Michigan residents.

The report, The Border’s Long Shadow: How Border Patrol Uses Racial Profiling and Local and State Police to Target and Instill Fear in Michigan’s Immigrant Communities, is the first-ever investigation of Border Patrol’s Michigan operations. It is based on thousands of CBP documents, spanning nine years, including records of over 13,000 stops detailing which police agency initiated the stop, the location of the stop, as well as the national origin and skin tone of the person apprehended.

“No one should have to live in fear of being targeted by law enforcement agencies because of the color of their skin or the language they speak, but, as the report reveals, that is exactly what’s happening in Michigan because of Border Patrol’s rampant use of racial profiling,” said Monica Andrade, ACLU of Michigan attorney and one of the report’s co-authors. “The same agency accused of horrible abuses, cruelty and discrimination at the Southern border is running nearly unchecked in our communities with the help of our local police. It is time for our congressional, state and local leaders to get serious about reining in Border Patrol.”

Border Patrol has long claimed broad authority to operate far from the border and across the entire state of Michigan based on CBP’s expansive interpretation of its jurisdiction, which it defines as anywhere within 100 miles of an international waterway, commonly referred to as the “100-mile zone.” CBP wrongly considers Lake Michigan, which does not share a shoreline with Canada, as an international waterway, allowing CBP to claim that it can conduct warrantless searches anywhere in the state.

In May 2015, the ACLU, the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, and Dr. Boyce filed a Freedom of Information Act request with CBP to learn about Border Patrol’s operations in the Detroit Sector, which includes all of Michigan, as well as northeast Ohio. When CBP refused to provide the records, the group sued in federal court. Attorneys from the ACLU and Dykema Gossett litigated the case for five years. The lawsuit resulted in CBP finally releasing the records, which were subjected to extensive analysis and compiled into this report.

Some of the key findings include:

  • Border Patrol uses racial profiling: While people of Latin American origin make up 16.8% of Michigan’s foreign-born population, the report shows that nearly 84% of all noncitizens apprehended by Border Patrol were originally from Latin America. More than 96% of those arrested are recorded by Border Patrol of being “Black,” “Dark Brown,” “Dark,” “Light Brown,” “Medium Brown,” “Medium,” or “Yellow.”
  • Speaking Spanish or another foreign language is a basis for Border Patrol stops: In 19% of stops, the basis for suspecting a person to be in the U.S. unlawfully was that the person spoke Spanish or another foreign language.
  • One-third of those stopped are U.S. citizens: The Border Patrol’s daily apprehension logs show that more than 33% of individuals stopped are U.S. citizens. An additional 12.88% of all noncitizens apprehended were found to have some kind of lawful status in the U.S.
  • Border Patrol is not focused on the border: Although Border Patrol’s mandated mission is to police the border, only 1.3% of cases for its Michigan operations involved people attempting to enter the U.S. without authorization from Canada. 
  • Families are being ripped apart: The records make clear that at least 33% of people identified as deportable have minor children who are U.S. citizens. The actual proportion is very likely higher, given that in 12% of cases, Border Patrol failed to note whether an arrested individual is a parent.
  • State and local police call Border Patrol to traffic stops: Nearly half (48.6%) of Border Patrol apprehensions began with a state or local law enforcement department initiating a traffic stop. MSP is, by far, responsible for more people being detained and turned over to Border Patrol than any other police agency—making up nearly 37% of all incidents. The ACLU and other advocates have been working with MSP to review and implement changes to its policies. The Macomb County Sheriff’s Office has the second highest number of contacts with Border Patrol, and is responsible for 11.4% of arrests, followed by the Detroit Police Department, making up 7%.
  • Border Patrol in Michigan experienced massive growth in the past two decades: The number of Border Patrol agents assigned to the Detroit Sector, which includes all of Michigan, has ballooned from 35 agents in 2000 to 404 agents in 2019—a 1,054% increase, which is by far the fastest rate of growth of any Border Patrol Sector in the country.

“We fought for and compiled these records to determine just how Border Patrol operates in Michigan,” said Dr. Boyce, co-author of the report and Border Studies Instructor at Earlham College. “Despite what we had been hearing about Border Patrol abuses for years, we were shocked and dismayed by the devastating picture the data revealed. It shows beyond dispute the rampant racial profiling of people of color, especially people of Latin American descent. Now, we must use this knowledge to put an end to it.”

“Immigration enforcement in Southwest Detroit is at an unprecedented level, with sweeps that result in dozens being detained, and families separated, including parents arrested while dropping their children off at school,” said Cindy Gamboa, community organizing and advocacy director at the Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation. “Border Patrol is constantly in our neighborhood and we are in constant fear. ‘Driving while Brown,’ speaking Spanish or simply appearing Latino makes us a target, and long-standing community members, including U.S. citizens, have experienced this unfair treatment repeatedly.”

To put an end to Border Patrol’s abusive tactics in Michigan, the ACLU is calling on lawmakers to not only restrict Border Patrol enforcement to the immediate border, but to put an end to state and local collaboration with federal immigration officials; end discriminatory policies at a local, state and federal level, including the racial profiling of immigrants; establish comprehensive public data collection processes to ensure transparency and accountability; significantly cut the number of Border Patrol agents in the Detroit sector; and restore access to driver’s licenses for non-citizens in Michigan.

Read the full report and FAQ’s: https://www.aclumich.org/en/publications/borders-long-shadow

See video of MSP and Border Patrol stopping and questioning 30-year lawful permanent resident Mr. Arnulfo Gomez: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aLeywadMZLM

See video statement of Mr. Gomez: https://youtu.be/xuVKC70BOUo

By completing this form, I agree to receive occasional emails per the terms of the ACLU’s privacy policy.

The latest in Immigrants' Rights

ACLU's Vision

The American Civil Liberties Union is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States of America.

Learn More About Immigrants' Rights

Immigration Rights issue image

The fundamental constitutional protections of due process and equal protection embodied in our Constitution and Bill of Rights apply to every person, regardless of immigration status.