Posted by on September 22, 2011 in Blog

By Ben-Wadih Hamd

Ben-Wadih Hamd is a Fall Intern at the Arab American Institute

Racial profiling in the post-9/11 era has become a staple of national security activities. However, this discriminatory practice may soon be drawing to a close. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Representative John Conyers Jr. (D-MI) have reintroduced an invigorated plan to end racial profiling: the End Racial Profiling Act, or ERPA. ERPA was originally introduced in 2001, but the terrorist attacks on September 11th 2001 stalled the process for the last decade, and even more discriminatory practices were instituted during the post-9/11 era to ensure America’s safety. Though these laws greatly diminished personal freedoms and civil liberties for all American citizens, immigrant communities of Arab, Middle Eastern, and South Asian descent were the most heavily targeted. The USA PATRIOT Act, the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, and enhanced Immigration reform are only some examples of ramped-up profiling policies that disproportionately targeted Arabs and Muslims. These laws allowed the U.S. government to systematically target citizens based on race or religion, detain members of the community without cause, and encourage citizens to report “suspicious” activities to various law enforcement agencies.

The Rights Working Group, a broad coalition of community-based organizations, the ACLU, and a handful of political leaders, are working diligently to discredit these far-reaching and dangerous policies. Through the reintroduction of the ERPA, Representative Conyers and Senator Cardin hope to prohibit local, state and federal law enforcement from engaging in profiling on the basis of race, religion, ethnicity or national origin. Indeed, Representative Conyers observed that “flying while Arab” has joined “driving while black” in the lexicon of civil liberties issues.

Racial profiling in law enforcement is not only obtrusive and discriminatory; it is also ineffective in curbing actual criminal activity. As Former DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff stated in 2001, “the problem is that the profile many people think they have of what a terrorist is doesn’t fit the reality…and in fact, one of the things the enemy does is to deliberately recruit people who are Western in background or in appearance, so they can slip by people who might be stereotyping.” In addition racial profiling erodes crucially important relationships with immigrant communities.

The 9/11 era has certainly heightened security in the United States. However, the discriminatory practices implemented during this period have been particularly destructive to minority communities. Perhaps Representative Conyers puts it best in stating, “The war on terror places minority communities on the front line and asks them to sacrifice their liberty for the pursuit of the common good.” The introduction of the ERPA aims to end this practice, and return civil liberties to all American citizens.

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