Immigrant advocates from across the U.S. are in Detroit for a two-day conference aimed at finding ways to stop what they say is a growing problem of federal agents profiling and harassing minorities near the U.S. border with Canada.
“Latinos and Arab Americans are being stopped for no reason while they’re walking down the street, waiting for a bus, or driving,” said Ryan Bates, director for the Michigan branch of the Alliance for Immigrants Rights and Reform. Agents also are increasingly boarding public buses and trains to target Latinos and others, he said.
The Northern Border Conference, which continues today, is looking at the issue of how minority groups are treated near the border. Much of the national attention on border issues deals with the southern border with Mexico, but advocates say they are seeing more targeting of minority groups near the border with Canada.
Dawud Walid, head of the Michigan branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, hopes to exchange ideas with other advocates. Last year, his group filed a complaint over profiling of Muslims at the U.S.-Canada border.
“Racial and religious profiling does not make our country any safer,” Walid said.
Southwest Detroit — the heart of metro Detroit’s Mexican-American community — is near the border with Canada, and some Latinos say they have been stopped more often and harassed by immigration agents.
The department has stepped up its enforcement near borders to stop illegal immigration, but some say the crackdown is affecting legal immigrants and even U.S. citizens. Federal agents have increased power within 100 miles of the border with Canada to detain suspects, a power that critics say has been misused.
One concern of advocates is that federal agencies such as the U.S. Border Patrol often don’t have the same accountability that local police departments have.
Lidia Reyes, director of Latino Family Services in Detroit, hopes to “find a solution to address” the growing concerns of local Latinos. “There’s been a lot of abuse,” Reyes said. The community wants agents “to follow the protocol.”
Last year, federal agents conducted raids in Detroit outside an elementary school and Catholic church that are heavily Latino, sparking renewed concern about their actions.
Latino social services agencies say they have been targeted by Border Patrol agents.
In addition, Muslims and Arab Americans say they’ve been detained and interrogated at border crossings for no legitimate reason.
An internal review last year by Immigration Customs Enforcement found that its agents were not guilty of the allegations made in Detroit.
A spokesman for the Detroit office of the Department of Homeland Security did not comment Thursday on the conference.
In the past, officials have said their agents do not racially profile. The head of the department, Secretary Janet Napolitano, has told the Free Press that she was concerned about the raid on the Detroit church and would look into that case.