Two-thirds of the travelers searched by U.S. Customs officials are minorities. In the 1990’s the case of Amanda Burita, a Hispanic from New York who was detained for 25 hours while being force-fed laxatives, raised awareness of minority profiling. But since 1999, Customs department leaders have instituted reforms to decrease the number of arbitrary searches. The guidelines for a justifiable searches have been tightened to exclude searches based on arbitrary characteristics of the traveler’s demeanor and appearance. Recent data shows a reduction in unnecessary searches and an increase in effectiveness. In the past year, 10,000 body searches were conducted, compared to 40,000 searches in 1998. Conversely, drug seizures have risen 38 percent since 1999.
U.S. Customs may be setting an example for state police agencies, which have been long criticized for their racial profiling policies. According to the Washington Post’s survey, one in five male Hispanics and Asians report being targeted by racially biased policing, as do more than 50 percent of black men. Police departments in Washington State, California and Maryland have taken measures to document and decrease racial profiling on the highways.
For more information on racial profiling and community policing, visit FMF’s National Center for Women and Policing