U.S. Said to Expand Limits on Racial Profiling in Probes

The U.S. Justice Department will soon extend its ban on the use of racial profiling during federal investigations, according to a law enforcement official briefed on the matter.

The Justice Department under Attorney General Eric Holder has been reviewing the guidelines for federal investigations for several years, according to the official, and is planning to expand the definition to prohibit profiling based on religion, national origin, sexual orientation and gender.

Holder, who during his tenure has spoken against racial profiling, has been under pressure from civil rights and civil liberties groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, to expand a ban put in place by President George W. Bush in 2003.

“Every year, thousands of people are stopped while driving, flying, or even walking simply because of their actual or perceived race, ethnicity, national origin, immigration or citizenship status, or religion,” Anthony Romero, the executive director of the ACLU, said in testimony for a 2012 Senate hearing on racial profiling.

The Bush administration issued guidelines barring federal agents from using race or ethnicity in their investigations across federal law enforcement agencies. Those guidelines provided leeway to agents involved in national security operations, allowing them to use the race or ethnicity in investigations designed to identify potential terrorist threats.

Profiling Permitted

Illinois Senator Richard Durbin, the chamber’s second-ranked Democrat, held a hearing on the issue in 2012 and has pressed Holder to expand the ban on profiling. While he called the Bush administration guidelines an “important step forward,” he said the ban “does not apply to profiling based on religion and national origin.”

“In essence, these exceptions are a license to profile American Muslims and Hispanic Americans,” Durbin said at the hearing.

While the scope of the changes that will be proposed by Holder wasn’t immediately available and the timing of any announcement unclear, the possible changes were discussed in a meeting yesterday between Holder and New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio at City Hall, the official said.

The New York Times first reported the planned changes to ban.

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