Immigration advocates accused some local and federal officials of using racial profiling as part of the stepped-up immigration enforcement that has sent widespread fear through South Florida’s Hispanic and Haitian communities, an accusation immigration agents steadfastly deny.
“Many victims of the immigration sweeps have told us they were racially profiled,” said Cheryl Little, director of the Miami-based Florida Immigration Advocacy Center. “They were stopped simply because of the way they looked or the language they spoke or because they had an accent.”
Similar accusations of immigrants questioned based on appearance, race or language surfaced followed Sept. 11, 2001, when FBI agents interviewed thousands of Arabs, Muslims and Hispanics.
Federal agents dispute the allegations, saying they are trained to look for a range of indicators, including suspicious behavior.
“The border patrol does board buses, but in no way is racial profiling used as part of our action,” said Victor Colon, assistant chief patrol agent for the U.S. Border Patrol. “The way a person behaves may cause an agent to ask further questions so we do use behavioral indicators, but that is just one factor. We are not targeting anyone, including Haitians.”
Similarly other federal agencies also deny such accusation. “It is clear that we do not target anyone based on their race, ethnicity or language,” said Barbara Gonzalez, a spokeswoman for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.