Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs
Costs of War

Racial Profiling and Islamophobia

After 9/11, Muslims and people of Arab and South Asian descent became targets of government practices that result in racial profiling.

In June 2002, then Attorney General John Ashcroft announced a “Special Registration” requirement that all males from a list of Arab and Muslim countries report to the government to register and be fingerprinted. In May 2011, the Obama Administration’s Department of Homeland Security announced that it was indefinitely suspending the program under which this requirement was established. According to a statement that same month from the American Civil Liberties Union, the program never received a single terrorism-related conviction despite tens of thousands of people forced to register.

The Trump administration exacerbated these preexisting problems by further propagating anti-Muslim prejudice. On the topic of the racial profiling of Muslims, former President Donald Trump stated, “I think profiling is something that we’re going to have to start thinking about as a country.” On January 27, 2017, Trump signed Executive Order 13769 which banned citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries from visiting the United States for 90 days, indefinitely prohibited the entry of all Syrian refugees into the U.S. and blocked the entry of all other refugees for 120 days. This order sparked a class-action lawsuit filed in federal court by the American Civil Liberties Union-Washington. Furthermore, federal Judge Derrick Watson blocked the ban in the state of Hawaii. The Supreme Court ultimately upheld Trump’s travel ban, though President Joe Biden rescinded the policy on his Inauguration Day.

The total number of reported hate crime incidents in the U.S. decreased by over 18 percent between 2000 and 2009, but during the same period, the percentage of hate crime incidents directed towards Muslims increased by over 500 percent. Furthermore, the number of assaults against Muslims in the U.S. peaked at 127 in 2016, which exceeded the previous peak of 93 assaults in 2001. Think tank New America has found that anti-Muslim activity, including hate incidents against mosques and Islamic centers, media reports of anti-Muslim violence and anti-Muslim actions and statements by government officials, has “increased markedly since late 2015.” Additionally, according to South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), there have been “over 484 incidents of hate violence and 252 incidents of xenophobic political rhetoric aimed at South Asian, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Middle Eastern, and Arab American communities around the country” since 2016.

Key Findings

  • Several U.S. laws and policies have contributed to the racial profiling of people of Arab and South Asian descent.
  • Reported hate crimes targeting Muslims increased exponentially between 2000 to 2009 and continue to rise.


Congress should pass legislation to:

  • Devote more resources to helping targets of racial profiling get access to justice and to hold perpetrators accountable.

  • Institute programs to eliminate profiling, and require national data collection programs on the race or ethnicity, religion, and gender of individuals stopped.

(Page updated as of June 2021)