WASHINGTON: The Obama administration will soon issue new rules curtailing the use of profiling, but over the objection of civil rights groups, federal agents will still be allowed to consider race and ethnicity when stopping people at airports, border crossings, and immigration checkpoints, according to several officials.
The new policy has been in the works for years and will replace decade-old rules that banned racial profiling for federal law enforcement, but with specific exemptions for national security and border investigations.
Immigration enforcement has proved to be the most controversial aspect of the Obama administration’s revisions, and law enforcement officials succeeded in arguing that they should have more leeway in deciding whom to stop and question.
The administration is set to release the new rules in the midst of nationwide protests over recent decisions in New York and Ferguson, Mo., not to prosecute white police officers for the deaths of unarmed black men. President Obama and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. have called for calm between law enforcement and minorities.
The new rules expand the definition of racial profiling to include religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity.
Under the rules, law enforcement officials cannot consider any of those factors, along with race, during criminal investigations, or during routine immigration cases away from the border. Agencies whose officers make traffic stops, such as the US Park Police, may not use them as a reason to pull someone over.
The debate over racial profiling in immigration enforcement, however, has delayed the release of the new rules for months.
Holder, who was leading the policy review, told colleagues that he believed border agents did not need to consider race nor ethnicity. But the Department of Homeland Security resisted efforts to limit the factors it can consider when looking for illegal immigrants.
Department officials argued that it was impractical to ignore ethnicity when it came to border enforcement.
“The immigration investigators have said, ‘We can’t do our job without taking ethnicity into account. We are very dependent on that,’ ” said one official briefed on the new rules. “They want to have the least amount of restrictions holding them back.”
Federal agents board buses and Amtrak trains in upstate New York, questioning passengers about their citizenship and detaining people who cannot produce immigration papers. Border Patrol agents also run inland checkpoints looking for illegal immigrants. Senator Richard J. Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, has called the existing rules “a license to profile.”
The leeway in the rules reflected the fact that Border Patrol agents face challenges that FBI agents and drug investigators do not, one senior official said.
“They have a very short period of time to make an assessment as to whether further inquiry needs to be given,” he said.
The rules will include new training requirements and require federal agents to keep records on complaints they receive about profiling, several officials said.
The Obama administration’s revisions come on the heels of the president’s decision to grant legal status to millions of immigrants who entered the country illegally. The new rules are likely to upset some of the advocacy groups that pushed hardest for that action.
“Of course we are disappointed,” said Tanya Clay House, the public policy director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which has lobbied the administration on racial profiling for several years but has not been officially notified of the new rules.
She said racial profiling is ineffective, both in general and at the border.
But Representative Beto O’Rourke, the Texas Democrat who represents the border city of El Paso, said that because the United States was so diverse, such policies unnecessarily expose millions of people to being stopped.
“How can race help a Border Patrol agent or customs officer do a better job in a city like El Paso, where 85 percent of the people are Hispanic?” O’Rourke said.