Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs
Costs of War

Racial Profiling

Since 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.

Racial and religious suspicions are also reflected at American airports, where Muslims, including American citizens, can often face intensive questioning by officials as they attempt to re-enter the country. Questions such as "When did you become a Muslim?" or "Which mosques do you attend?" may infringe upon rights guaranteed by the Constitution and federal law.  

Racial profiling exists in private practice as well. The total number of reported hate crime incidents in the US 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. The number of hate crimes against Muslims has risen more slowly since 2010.

Key Findings

  • Several US laws and policies, including the Patriot Act, have contributed to racial profiling targeting people of Arab and South Asian descent.

  • According to official statistics, during the decade following 9/11 the US saw a 150 percent rise in workplace discrimination against Muslims.

  • The percentage of reported hate crimes targeting Muslims increased exponentially during the 2000-2009 period.


Congress should pass legislation to:

  • Bar special registration programs like the one disbanded in 2011;

  • 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 March 2015)