Sweeping Homeland Security Investigation Of Muslims Was Unconstitutional And Discriminatory, Says ACLU

October 31, 2008 12:00 am

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2004 DHS Program Used Racial And Ethnic Profiling

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CONTACT: (202) 675-2312; media@dcaclu.org

WASHINGTON – A report in today’s New York Times revealed details of a 2004 Department of Homeland Security (DHS) anti-terrorism program that, despite government claims to the contrary, used racial profiling. More than 2,000 Muslim immigrants were investigated in the lead up to the 2004 elections, and many were interrogated right before the November election. Despite the investment of considerable resources, “Operation Front Line” produced minimal results. Most of those investigated were found to have done nothing wrong.

In 2001, President Bush declared that racial profiling was “wrong” and that he would “end it in America.”In 2002, Attorney General John Ashcroft said, “Using race… as a proxy for potential criminal behavior is unconstitutional, and it undermines law enforcement by undermining the confidence that people can have in law enforcement,” and his Justice Department banned racial profiling by federal law enforcement in 2003. That ban, however, came with an exemption for national security investigations. Today’s New York Times article shows how DHS drove a truck through that loophole just one year later.

“Despite President Bush’s vow to end racial profiling, his administration embraced it,” said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “This program confirms that racial and ethnic profiling are not only wrong, but they don’t work. The time and resources spent by DHS rounding up, interrogating and investigating innocent American immigrants could have been spent dealing with actual threats to our country.”

The Times story comes on the heels of a debate regarding the overhaul of guidelines that govern FBI investigations. The ACLU is vigorously opposed to the new guidelines that will be implemented on December 1. Among granting other expanded powers, the guidelines allow racial profiling, which the ACLU believes will lead to more misguided efforts like the one revealed in this DHS program.

“After questioning and investigating over 2,000 people, DHS came up empty handed. How much more evidence do we need that racial profiling is a waste of time and resources?” said Fredrickson. “Preserving an ineffective and counterproductive technique for our most important national security investigations makes no sense. The national security loophole in the DOJ’s racial profiling ban must be closed.”

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