In 2002, our federal government implemented the National Security
Entry-Exit Registration System, which required males 17 and older to
register with U.S. immigration authorities. The requirement applied only
to natives of predominantly Muslim countries.
After reporting to registration, many of the men and boys never
returned home. Rather, they were detained and deported, often without
any notice to remaining family members in the United States, who were
left wondering about their whereabouts.
In response, I organized a human rights monitoring campaign outside
of the Immigration and Naturalization Service offices in Manhattan.
About 90 Americans volunteered to work three-hour shifts beginning as
early as 5 a.m. and ending as late as midnight.
Donning bright yellow shirts with the words "Human Rights Monitor,"
the volunteers tracked the compliant men who entered and exited the
building. In the event someone did not leave, we contacted their family
and provided legal and other resources.
One of the things that struck me about the volunteers is that they
were, for the most part, not Muslim. In other words, they were not
members of the very religious, racial and ethnic groups singled out by
NSEERS, which has since been terminated.
As an American and Muslim, that resonated positively with me. And I
have carried that experience forward. So I was disappointed to read
recently that 70 percent of surveyed New Jerseyans approved of the New York City Police Department’s profiling of the American-Muslim, Arab-American and South Asian communities.
Over six months, the Associated Press has cataloged widespread
warrantless surveillance of average, law-abiding American Muslims
without any indication of criminal wrongdoing and in violation of the
First and Fourth Amendments.
The NYPD has monitored Muslims’ daily life in bookstores, cafes, bars
and nightclubs; gathered intelligence on cab drivers and food cart
vendors hailing from particular countries and regions; photographed
restaurants and grocery stores frequented by Muslims; built databases
showing where Muslims shopped, got their hair cut and prayed; and used
university records to identify and spy on students.
Studies dating to the 1990s have shown that police officers who
engage in profiling were less likely to find contraband in searches of
their targets than they were in their searches of whites.
In other words, profiling does not work.
In June 2003, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a policy guidance
regarding racial and ethnic profiling by federal law enforcement
agencies stating: "Racial profiling in law enforcement is not merely
wrong, but also ineffective. The DOJ orders federal agencies not to use
race or ethnicity, alone or in conjunction with other factors, as an
indicator of suspicion in routine law enforcement activities.
While law enforcement use of religious profiling became more visible
after 9/11, the DOJ guidance remains woefully silent on the subject.
Indeed, it should be amended to reflect that the effects of religious
profiling are equally as pernicious and ineffective as its racial and
Existing research highlights this best: Terrorists who claim to be
inspired by religion are not likely to be found at mosques, nor do they
exhibit signs of devout religiosity. Further, a highly respected social
scientist’s review of 500 cases found evidence that "a well-established
religious identity actually protects against violent radicalization."
Since the DOJ guidance regulates only federal agencies, Congress
should finally pass the End Racial Profiling Act, which prohibits law
enforcement agencies from engaging in religious, ethnic and racial
We need to protect our homeland from those who would harm us, but we
can only do that by using lawful policies and tactics that work and
preserve who we strive to be. I hope New Jerseyans can see that, just as
those 90 human rights volunteers did.
Engy Abdelkader is a legal fellow with the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, a think tank based in Washington.
this article was published by The Newark Star Ledger on April 20, 2012. Read it here.