A Call to End Racial and Religious Profiling

A perspective from LGBTQ South Asian, Muslim, and Middle Eastern communities
April 22, 2015

In recent years, South Asian, Muslim and Middle Eastern communities have become targets of a resurgence of and increase in anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiment and crime. The February 10 murder of three Muslim Chapel Hill students and the police brutalization of 57 year-old Sureshbhai Patel in Madison, Alabama demand an exploration of how Islamophobia, anti-immigrant violence and racism intersect. Though these may seem like individual acts of violence, the racial profiling that makes these hate crimes possible has been state-sanctioned for years.

September 11, 2011 remains an important marker of an upsurge in violence in our communities. The fallout after 9/11 crashed heavily and directly upon Muslim, South Asian and Middle Eastern communities. Distinct ethnicities, cultures, nationalities, and religions are homogenized into a single group. In an era of increased Islamophobia, all those "mistaken for Muslim" became targets of violence. The impact of this on our communities results in day-to-day violence from neighborhood hate crimes to state-based racial and religious profiling. Fourteen years later, the post 9/11 reality has not changed.

Racial profiling of our communities is effectively sanctioned by law. Racial and religious profiling by the Department of Homeland Security is rampant, with little accountability when people are profiled. The Department of Justice has provided guidance to federal law enforcement agencies -- titled Department of Justice Guidance for Federal Law Enforcement Agencies Regarding the Use of Race, Ethnicity, Gender, National Origin, Religion, Sexual Orientation, or Gender Identity -- in an attempt to curtail rampant profiling. Numerous agencies including, Customs and Border Protection and Transportation Security Administration, are exempt from these guidelines under the guise of “protecting national and border security”. This exemption gives license to egregious profile-based policing in our country and deprives already-vulnerable communities of their civil liberties. We must demand that there are no loopholes and ensure that all law enforcement is held accountable to racial and religious profiling.

Maya Jafer, is a post-operative transsexual woman of Indian heritage who immigrated to the U.S. under her then-legal male identity and last name “Hussain.” Maya faced racial and religious profiling throughout the immigration process. When she arrived in the U.S., Maya was screened and detained at the airport for four hours. She was harassed as a Muslim and feared sharing her gender identity out of concern it would incite more harassment. Once in the U.S., Maya transitioned and feared going back to India as a post-operative transsexual female. She applied for U.S. citizenship and went through 10 rigorous years of screening where the Department of Homeland Security regularly questioned her for having the last name “Hussain” and intentionally delayed her naturalization process. Maya is not alone in this targeting of people perceived to be Muslim by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) and other Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agencies. 

As we fight for accountability for our communities, we must also link our struggles with the demands for accountability from Black communities who have been harassed or lost their lives to racial profiling and police brutality. We know a movement of solidarity is not born without looking inward first. As communities who face profiling and state violence, we call upon our fellow non-Black communities of color to address the entrenched anti-Black bias inside our communities - within our places of worship, our families, ourselves. We call upon our fellow Muslims, South Asians, Middle Eastern and LGBTQ community members to lift up the voices of those at the margins of the margins -- those in the shadows. They are the best architects for true change in this moment.

As we enter month eight of a new generation of massive social unrest, we write this call to action as members of the Asian and Pacific Islander communities and other non-Black communities of color, faith-based communities -- those secular or religious -- and queer and trans* communities, to stand shoulder to shoulder against insidious and persistent violence against our collective communities. We can no longer wait. It is time we lift up the connections that our lives depend on -- time to have the conversation that denounces police and vigilante violence and makes explicit linkages between white supremacy to the racial and religious profiling based on lived bodies and experiences -- whether based on perceived gender, faith, race, and/or immigration status.

As Muslims, Middle Eastern, South Asian and communities of color, we are no strangers to policing and profiling of Black and brown bodies. As queer and trans* people, we are no strangers to institutional violence -- among families of origin, places of worship, at the hands of the state. As queer and trans* Muslims and immigrants, we are no strangers to intergenerational trauma, forced migration and systems that cannot fail us simply because our protection was never part of their design. We are no strangers to our bodies being policed and violated at borders and in the U.S. Our survival and safety have never been priority in this country.

This is why we demand that the President use his executive power to end racial and religious profiling. The President has authority to hold the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice and local law enforcement agencies that receive federal grants accountable. We can no longer wait.

Our lives are not disposable. We will survive this. We will transform this time, together.

Sign the petition to President Obama demanding an end to racial and religious profiling. The petition also demands an end to detention and deportations. The Hyphen series will also cover issues of detention and deportation for AAPI LGBTQ communities.

Yas Ahmed, Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity

National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance

Sasha W., Queer South Asian National Network

Sign the petition here.