Legislators demand answers after report reveals ‘blatant’ racial profiling by Michigan border agents

Legislators demand answers after report reveals ‘blatant’ racial profiling by Michigan border agents

The House Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties is calling on Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Sec. Alejandro Mayorkas to respond to a damning report by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan revealing widespread racial profiling of Latino residents in the state by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers.

“Most of the people apprehended by CBP were of Latin American origin, and nearly half—over 45%—were either U.S. citizens or had another kind of lawful status in the country,” chair Jamie Raskin and committee member Rashida Tlaib write. They say the report’s overall findings “suggest that CBP’s operations in Michigan are focused less on its lawful enforcement priorities than on harassing longtime residents of Michigan in a way that systematically and disproportionately target those of Latin American origin.”

Because of an obscure 100-mile zone law, border officials have believed they have the authority to carry out warrantless searches within the U.S. “CBP claims the entire state of Michigan falls within this 100-mile zone because it defines each of the Great Lakes as an international waterway,” the ACLU of Michigan said. And, border agents have used this supposed authority to engage in “blatant” racial profiling, the organization continues.

“Although people of Latin American origin comprise just 16.8% of the state’s foreign-born population, 85% of noncitizens apprehended by Border Patrol were from Latin America,” the report said. And, an overwhelming number of people being stopped by border agents have status. More than 33% are U.S. citizens. An additional 13% have some sort of lawful status. “Instead of following its mandate to patrol the Canadian border, Border Patrol is arresting people who, overwhelmingly, are established, long-term residents of Michigan.”

“The agency uses ‘complexion codes’ to describe people apprehended,” the report also noted. “Tellingly, more than 96% of those apprehended are recorded as being ‘Black,’ ‘Dark Brown,’ ‘Dark,’ ‘Light Brown,’ ‘Medium Brown,’ ‘Medium,’ or ‘Yellow.’” That last “complexion code” in particular seems very dated and offensive, by the way.

The ACLU’s report further noted how local and state law enforcement “play a key role in helping Border Patrol target people of color: Nearly half of Border Patrol apprehensions (48.6%) began with a state or local law enforcement agency initiating a traffic stop. Michigan State Police is, by far, responsible for initiating more contact with Border Patrol than any other police agency that results in people being detained and turned over to the federal agency’s custody.”

“More troublingly, the ACLU has identified at least 14 encounters where local law enforcement detained an individual absent a suspicion of wrongdoing and then handed them off to CBP agents,” Raskin and Tlaib tell Mayorkas. “Such prolonged stops are unconstitutional. In 2012, the Supreme Court warned that there are ‘constitutional concerns’ when state and local law enforcement ‘delay the release of detainees for no other reason than to verify their immigration status.’” Localities have in fact had to pay out millions in settlements to immigrants who were unjustly detained in this manner. 

The report details one disturbing incident in particular, when U.S. resident Arnulfo Gomez and two passengers were pulled over by Michigan State Police, supposedly due to a loud exhaust pipe. For a moment it appeared they would be allowed to continue on, until an officer noted their accents and said that a colleague was nearby with a border agent. That agent then harassed Gomez’s wife, threatening her with arrest. The report said that Gomez watched the interaction in terror, fearful that their two U.S. citizen children would have their family torn apart.

Ultimately, they were allowed to leave. “There was no reason for him to pull us over,” Gomez said in the report. “As soon as he saw we are brown, he was after us. Then they called Border Patrol right away. Everything that happened to us was wrong. We were being targeted just because we are brown.” The ACLU of Michigan said in the report that “[u]nfortunately, this family’s experience is not unique.”

“We are deeply troubled by what appear to be discriminatory abuses of authority and misuse of taxpayer funds,” Raskin and Tlaib continue in their letter to Mayorkas. “DHS must provide a full explanation of exactly how it is addressing the problems laid bare by the ACLU.” The ACLU of Michigan thanked the committee for making the inquiry to Mayorkas, saying in a statement that “[w]e look forward to DHS’s response to the report and the reforms that come from this briefing.”

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