Muslim Advocates Statement on “Racial Profiling in America”

Posted May 6, 2012      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version Bookmark and Share

Muslim Advocates Statement on “Racial Profiling in America”

Statement Submitted by Muslim Advocates and 27 American Muslim, Arab, Middle Eastern, and South Asian Organizations to U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights for the Hearing on “Racial Profiling In America”

Muslim Advocates submits this statement on racial and religious profiling, which is endorsed by the undersigned American Muslim[1], Arab, Middle Eastern, and South Asian organizations, to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights. Muslim Advocates commends Chairman Durbin for holding this critical hearing, “Ending Racial Profiling in America” and urges the Committee to take steps to address rampant racial profiling at the federal, state, and local levels, which erodes our nation’s commitment to religious freedom and equal protection under the law.

Muslim Advocates ( is a national legal advocacy and educational organization dedicated to promoting freedom, justice, and equality for all, regardless of faith, using the tools of legal advocacy, policy engagement, and education and by serving as a legal resource to promote the full participation of Muslims in American civic life. Muslim Advocates seeks to protect the founding values of our nation and believes that America can be safe and secure without sacrificing constitutional rights and protections.

Law enforcement has a solemn responsibility to protect the American people consistent with the rights and protections guaranteed by the Constitution to all Americans, regardless of race, religion, or ethnicity. And Congress must ensure that they do so.

American Muslims, who number about six million today, are an important and vital part of our nation and its history. The first Muslims arrived in America on slave ships from Africa. Over time, some Americans have converted to Islam, and other Muslims have come as immigrants. American Muslims serve our country as lawyers, teachers, police and firefighters, members of the armed forces, and even as members of Congress. Their research and innovation adds to the progress of our nation in science, medicine, business, and technology.

American Muslims have also embraced our nation’s promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But since 9/11, these hopes and dreams have been jeopardized, and fundamental rights infringed. Today, American Muslims face government discrimination in their everyday lives – whether they enter a mosque to pray, get on a plane, cross the border, or log onto the Internet. They worry that they will be interrogated by government agents, or worse, arrested and detained, for no reason at all. Our nation has not seen such widespread abuse, discrimination and harassment by federal law enforcement since the J. Edgar Hoover era.

American Muslims are also affected by biased policing practices at the state and local levels. African-Americans and Latinos, some of whom are Muslim, are unfairly targeted for stops by law enforcement when driving or walking down the street. The New York Police Department recently released arrest data showing that stops and frisks of African-Americans and Latinos remain at disproportionate levels, reminding us that racial profiling remains an urgent challenge.[2] In 2010, the state of Arizona enacted a law that requires state and local police to demand proof of immigration status, raising fears of discriminatory policing. At the state, local, and federal levels, racial profiling is wrong and counter-productive and must end.

The need for congressional attention to racial and religious profiling has never been more urgent. This statement will describe the experiences of American Muslim, Arab, Middle Eastern, and South Asians who have been targeted by law enforcement based on their faith for questioning, searches, and surveillance. This statement will conclude with recommendations of steps Congress should take to end racial and religious profiling in America today.

I. Discriminatory Law Enforcement Practices Targeting American Muslims

A. Biased Training Materials Used by the Federal Government

Federal law enforcement agencies have used bigoted, false, and highly offensive materials to train their employees and agents. While recent news reports have highlighted the FBI’s use of biased experts and training materials, this problem extends far beyond the FBI and has infected other government agencies, including the U.S. Attorney’s Anti-Terrorism Advisory Councils, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and the U.S. Army.

One of the most disturbing revelations is that FBI training documents and materials equate traditional religious practices and beliefs with a propensity to commit violence, a disturbing demonstration of the agency’s culture of suspicion directed at American Muslims. For example, a 2006 FBI intelligence report states that individuals who convert to Islam are on the path to becoming “Homegrown Islamic Extremists,” if they “[wear] traditional Muslim attire . . . [grow] facial hair . . . frequent[ly] [attend] … a mosque or prayer group . . . [or] travel to a Muslim country.”[3] A January 2009 powerpoint presentation by the FBI’s Law Enforcement Communications Unit, which trains new recruits, states that Islam is a religion that “transforms [a] country’s culture into 7th-century Arabian ways.”[4] As recently as September 1, 2011, mandatory orientation material for all 4,400 members of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) stated that “Sunni [Muslim] core doctrine and end state have remained the same and they continue to strive for Sunni Islamic domination of the world to prove a key Quranic assertion that no system of government or religion on earth can match the Quran’s purity and effectiveness for paving the road to God.” [5]

The FBI has yet to address this problem directly and comprehensively. The FBI recently completed a review of its training materials regarding Islam and Muslims, where it identified more than 392 presentations containing 876 individual documents that would no longer be used by the agency to train its employees. The review of agency materials, however, did not include an assessment of intelligence products, intelligence documents owned in part by other federal agencies, or any other document not classified as a “training material.” For example, the 2006 FBI intelligence report “The Radicalization Process: From Conversion to Jihad” continues to be in circulation.[6] The report states that individuals who convert to Islam are on the path to becoming “Homegrown Islamic Extremists,” if they exhibit any of the following behavior:[7]

• “Wearing traditional Muslim attire”
• “Growing facial hair”
• “Frequent attendance at a mosque or a prayer group”
• “Travel to a Muslim country”
• “Increased activity in a pro-Muslim social group or political cause.”

Given that millions of American Muslims engage in some or all of the above-mentioned activities, the report clearly frames routine religious practices as indicators of extremism. This runs contrary to the FBI’s expressed commitment to upholding constitutional values, and to refrain from equating “strong religious beliefs . . . with violent extremism.”[8] Factual errors and bigoted views about a religious group have no place in any government document used to guide or train law enforcement officers. Any meaningful resolution to this problem must encompass a thorough review of all such material, regardless of whether the FBI categorizes the offensive document as a training product.

Furthermore, despite the enormous number of bigoted training materials promoted by the agency, there has been little accountability for FBI actions. To date, FBI Director Mueller has not (1) committed to retrain FBI personnel who viewed the offensive training materials; (2) formally reprimanded, demoted, or fired any employee responsible for producing the material; nor (3) committed to making public all training materials currently in circulation or produced in the future. Without these steps, the public does not have assurance that biased agents are no longer being used or cultivated by the FBI.

B. FBI Discriminatory Surveillance and Mapping

The use of bigoted trainers and materials is not only highly offensive, disparaging the faith of millions of Americans, but leads to biased policing that targets individuals and communities based on religion, not evidence of wrongdoing.

Since September 11, 2001, American Muslims have been frequently approached by FBI agents for uninvited questioning at their homes and workplace and asked personal questions about their family, friends, and community acquaintances. These so-called “voluntary” interviews not only intimidate, but also cast suspicion over community members and jeopardize their personal and professional relationships. Some individuals are coerced into becoming informants in order to avoid prosecution or deprivation of immigration benefits.

In 2008, the FBI began codifying these changes in its practices. The FBI’s Domestic Investigative Operational Guidelines (“DIOG”)[9] now authorizes massive data gathering based on troubling assumptions and stereotypes about minority and ethnic communities.[10] While it bars investigative activities based “solely on the exercise of First Amendment rights or on the race, ethnicity, national origin, or religion”[11] (emphasis added), it allows investigative activities based partially on these factors.[12] The DIOG authorizes the FBI to “identify locations of concentrated ethnic communities in the Field Office’s domain, if these locations will reasonably aid in the analysis of potential threats and vulnerabilities . . . [s]imilarly, the locations of ethnically-oriented businesses and other facilities may be collected . . . .”[13] In this way, the DIOG authorizes the collection of racial and ethnic demographic data and cultural and behavioral information about racial and ethnic communities, not individualized suspicion of criminal activity or threats to national security. This can only be classified as racial, ethnic, and religious profiling.

The Attorney General Guidelines (“AG Guidelines”), which were most recently modified by then-Attorney General Mukasey in 2008,[14] have also expanded the FBI’s scope of domestic intelligence gathering, allowing agents to conduct “assessments” to gather information on individuals without a shred of evidence or any factual basis for suspected wrongdoing. The ease with which FBI agents can now conduct these broad assessments is compounded by the intrusive information-collecting techniques they can utilize in this phase. Agents and informants are allowed to attend meetings and events secretly; to conduct pretext interviews with people while hiding their true identity; and to engage in indefinite physical surveillance of homes, offices, and individuals.[15] This means that law-abiding individuals and organizations across the country are subject to surveillance based on no more than their membership in what should be a constitutionally protected class. The AG Guidelines and DIOG, therefore, starkly illustrate the existence of a federal intelligence-gathering apparatus that targets racial, ethnic, cultural, and religious behavior as an indicator of future criminal activity. The net result is the creation of a climate of fear and apprehension among the Muslim community.

Official documents obtained by Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) requests reveal the FBI’s problematic approach to the American Muslim community.[16] One FBI field office memorandum in Detroit, for instance, sheds light on the FBI’s surveillance and information collection in that area: “because Michigan has a large Middle-Eastern and Muslim population, it is prime territory for attempted radicalization and recruitment by . . . terrorist groups.”[17]

The FOIA documents also uncovered a great deal about the techniques used by the FBI to surveil Muslims throughout the country. In the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, FBI agents have attended community events hosted by Muslim organizations, without invitation, interviewed employees, documented the attendees’ names, personal information, religious and political views, and racial, ethnic, and national origin.[18] These activities have been conducted under the guise of “community outreach”, but documents reveal that the FBI both categorized information about Muslims as “positive intelligence” and distributed it to agencies outside the FBI.[19]

It is troubling that information produced through surveillance activities is being used by state law enforcement officers in the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Forces (“JTTF”), even though such tactics would be forbidden under local legal standards. The San Francisco Police Department (“SFPD”), for instance, is currently operating under a Memorandum of Understanding with the FBI that ensures that SFPD members participating in the JTTF are bound by federal guidelines previously discussed rather than state Constitutional standards. Consequently, San Francisco residents are subject to questioning and surveillance; mosques and organizations are subject to infiltration and physical surveillance; and community members are being pressured into acting as informants on their friends, families, and acquaintances.[20] These activities are occurring in the absence of any individualized suspicion or evidence of wrongdoing, but once again, are based on faith, race, ethnicity, and national origin.

Such activities are a serious threat to our nation’s commitment to religious freedom, equal protection of the law, and the right to be free from government intrusion in the absence of objective evidence to suspect illegal activity or wrongdoing.

C. Racial & Religious Profiling at the U.S. Border

American Muslims, and those perceived to be Muslim, have also been subject to a disturbing pattern of questioning and searches by federal agents at the border when returning home from international travel. Without any suspicion of wrongdoing, U.S. Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) officers are questioning U.S. citizens and legal residents who are Muslim, or appear to be Muslim, about their religious and political beliefs, and religious associations, practices and charitable activities protected by the First Amendment and federal law. Questions include asking persons their religion, which mosque they attend, how frequently they pray, whether they recruit people for Islam, what they think about the war in Iraq, and to which charities they contribute.[21]

While the government has a legitimate interest in verifying the identity of those entering the country and that they do not pose a security threat, questions about religious and political beliefs are irrelevant to these concerns. Targeting a religious community for these kinds of questions harms our national interest by wasting scarce government resources, generating false leads, and eroding the trust of religious and ethnic communities in law enforcement and government.[22] Questions by federal law enforcement officials about religious and political ideology also send Americans the message that certain beliefs are not welcome in this country.

Muslims who are questioned about their First Amendment-protected beliefs, activities, practices, and associations at the border understandably fear that their responses will be used to target them unjustly for future law enforcement attention. Consequently, American Muslims feel chilled from exercising the rights guaranteed to all Americans by the Constitution: the freedom to pray, express oneself, associate with others, and travel, free of government scrutiny.

Unfortunately, CBP’s official policy on the issue of overbroad interviews targeting religious and political beliefs is unclear. The agency has not publicly released any information about the authorized scope of questioning and whether internal constraints and accountability mechanisms exist to prevent First Amendment infringements. In response to hundreds of complaints about profiling at the border, DHS’ Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (“CRCL”) began conducting an investigation. Meanwhile, the detention, harassment, and interrogation of American Muslims based on their faith, ethnicity, race, and national origin continues unabated.

Americans Muslims are also targeted at the border for invasive searches of their person and belongings, including electronic devices, without any individualized suspicion of wrongdoing. CBP agents look through pictures on digital cameras, documents on computers, and contacts and information in cell phones, Blackberries and iPhones. CBP asserts that they have the authority to seize these devices, including the data contained within the devices, without probable cause. The invasive nature of these searches – and the ability of the government to target individuals without actual suspicion of wrongdoing – highlights the broad, abusive power being asserted by CBP agents.

Despite repeated requests to DHS by Muslim Advocates and other civil rights organizations to disclose CBP’s policies for selecting individuals for secondary searches, DHS has not made public policies or procedures that could shed light on the extent to which individuals are being targeted based on their race, religion, ethnicity or national origin.

D. Discriminatory Policing by Local Law Enforcement:

The New York Police Department

Using methods chillingly similar to those of the FBI, the New York Police Department’s (“NYPD”) blanket surveillance of Muslim community members and organizations throughout the northeast – based on race, ethnicity and religious beliefs, not based on individualized suspicion of wrongdoing – is well-documented.

In August 2011, the Associated Press (“AP”) began releasing a series of investigative reports about the NYPD’s intelligence gathering program specifically targeting the Muslim community, and the CIA’s involvement in that effort.[23] The NYPD was exposed as targeting the entire Muslim community – and approximately 250 mosques, schools, and businesses – without any evidence of wrongdoing.[24] As part of ethnic mapping programs throughout the city, the NYPD targets Muslim neighborhoods, maintains a list of “ancestries of interest,” and receives daily reports from informants who visit cafes and clubs to collect information about Muslim patrons.[25]

The NYPD’s improper targeting of innocent Muslims is compounded by its use during officer trainings of The Third Jihad, a film containing offensive, inflammatory and inaccurate depictions of Muslims as violent and seeking world domination. [26] Though the NYPD assured the public that the film had only been shown “a few times” to some officers,[27] that claim was later revealed to be false when documents proved that it was played for three months, viewed by almost 1,500 officers, and its producers conducted a ninety-minute interview with NYPD Chief Commissioner Ray Kelly.[28]

The enormity of the NYPD’s baseless and blanket surveillance operations, which cast suspicion on an entire faith community, and Commissioner Kelly’s own participation in an interview for an offensive and hateful film about Muslims, paint a disturbing picture of NYPD attitudes regarding Muslims. Such measures are merely the latest in the well-documented history of NYPD’s targeting communities of color through discriminatory policing practices, which are a threat to the rights of all Americans. Allowing this surveillance to continue sends the message that law enforcement is not accountable for upholding the right of all Americans to be free from unwarranted police scrutiny.

Attempts at seeking public accountability for the NYPD have been unsuccessful. With Governor Andrew Cuomo’s support,[29] New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman recently declined to pursue an investigation,[30] and Mayor Michael Bloomberg has repeatedly defended the NYPD’s monitoring of Muslims as legal and constitutional.[31] In contrast, U.S. Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ)[32], thirty-four other Members of the House,[33] and Senator Robert Menendez requested a U.S. Department of Justice investigation of the NYPD.[34] In addition, a coalition of over 115 civil rights, faith, community, and civic groups sent a joint letter to the Attorney General asking for the same.[35] Despite these requests, the Civil Rights Division has not announced an investigation.

II. Conclusion & Recommendations

Racial, ethnic and religious profiling is a rampant problem in America today. As a result, vulnerable communities live in constant fear of being targeted, stopped, questioned, harassed, and monitored by state and federal law enforcement on the basis of their faith, race, ethnicity, and national origin. To combat this problem, Muslim Advocates makes the following recommendations:

1. Muslim Advocates urges Congress to enact the End Racial Profiling Act (S. 1670 /H.R. 3618) introduced by Congressman Conyers and Senator Cardin. ERPA would:

o Ban racial, ethnic, religious and national origin profiling by federal, state and local law enforcement;
o Require training of federal, state and local law enforcement, to ensure that discriminatory policing does not take place;
o Establish an effective redress mechanism for those aggrieved, to ensure accountability;
o Require federal, state and local law enforcement to collect data on stops, interviews and all investigatory activities to allow the agency and the public to monitor whether racial, ethnic and religious profiling is taking place; and
o Require the Attorney General to report to Congress on the implementation of such a law.

2. Muslim Advocates urges members of Congress to ask U.S. Attorney General Holder to fulfill his commitment to reforming the Guidance Banning Racial Profiling by Federal Law Enforcement Agencies of 2003. The Guidance should be modified to:

o Include religion and national origin as protected classes;
• Remove the national security and border integrity exceptions, since there are no such exceptions to the application of the Equal Protection and Free Exercise Clauses of the U.S. Constitution;
• Explicitly state that the ban on racial, ethnic, religious and national origin profiling applies to intelligence activities carried out by law enforcement agencies subject to the Guidance;
• Ensure that it is enforceable and that law enforcement agencies are held accountable for any violations; and
• Apply to state or local law enforcement agencies working in cooperation with federal agencies or receiving federal financial assistance, including grants, training, use of equipment, donations of surplus property, and other assistance.

3. Muslim Advocates urges Congress to conduct oversight and enact legislation, such as the Travelers Privacy Protection Act, that includes:

• Suspicion standards to limit arbitrary scrutiny by CBP (e.g., requiring reasonable suspicion before allowing a search or intelligence-gathering interrogation; probable cause before seizing an electronic device or copying data from it);
• Subject matter limits on interrogations, making clear that questions about religious beliefs, political views and associations with lawful persons and organizations are neither legitimate subjects for scrutiny, nor related to security concerns; and
• Measures to stop, monitor and prevent potential future profiling according to race, religion, ethnicity or national origin, such as demographic data about individuals selected for scrutiny, reporting requirements, a mandated audit and public report, and a private right of action based on a disparate impact standard.

This Statement is Endorsed by the Following American Muslim, Arab, Middle Eastern and South Asian Organizations:

Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF)
Association of Muslim American Lawyers (AMAL)
Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago (CIOGC)
Council of Islamic Organizations of Michigan (CIOM)
Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)
Florida Muslim Bar Association (FMBA)
Georgia Association of Muslim Lawyers (GAML)
Houston Shifa Services Foundation, Inc.
Imam Hussain Islamic Center (IHIC)
Independent Viewpoints
Indian Muslim Relief & Charities
Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati
Islamic Center of Zahra-SA
Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA)
Muslim Bar Association of Chicago
Muslim Bar Association of New York
Muslim Consultative Network (MCN)
Muslim Peace Coalition USA
Muslims for Peace, Inc.
National Muslim Law Students Association (NMLSA)
National Network for Arab American Communities
Pakistani American Leadership Center (PAL-C)
Pakistan American Public Affairs Committee
South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT)
USPAK Foundation
Women in Islam Inc.

Muslim Advocates website

Statement in PDF including all footnotes