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Profiling, as in NYPD Muslim probe, does not improve security
Engy Abdelkader
Legal Fellow
4/20/2012

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 ethnic twins.

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 profiling.

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.

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