U.S. border guards regularly engage in racial profiling, 3 Black officers allege in lawsuit

Allegations of racial profiling at the U.S. border are nothing new: A number of reported incidents have made headlines, including last year’s flood of detentions of Iranian-born travellers.

What’s more unusual is how those allegations are now coming from inside the agency that oversees the U.S. border — and they’re from border officers themselves.

They’re contained in a lawsuit against the U.S. government from three officers stationed at a Michigan-Ontario border crossing.

The officers are all Black men, all U.S. military veterans and they’re all employed by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency at the Blue Water Bridge crossing between Port Huron, Mich., and Sarnia, Ont.

Their lawsuit coincides with the release of data on thousands of apprehension records that the American Civil Liberties Union says proves blatant racial profiling at the border in Michigan.

“I’ve seen it with my own two eyes,” said Mikal Williams, one of the three officers who filed the lawsuit several weeks ago in the U.S. District Court in eastern Michigan’s southern division.

“Travellers of colour [are] receiving more scrutiny.”

What the lawsuit alleges

The three officers filed the legal action against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the border agency, and will ask a court to grant exemplary and punitive damages in a dollar amount not yet specified.

Their allegations have not yet been tested in court.

The border agency has not yet filed its response to the lawsuit, and a spokesperson said its policy is not to comment on matters of pending litigation.

The legal complaint recounts several anecdotes in which, the plaintiffs say, their white colleagues were harsher on people of colour entering from Canada than on whites.

One example in the court filing involves 17 U.S. citizens, all Black men, returning home from Toronto in SUVs who were pulled over. “[They] were treated without respect and were insulted … only because of their race,” the lawsuit claims.

Another alleged episode involves a Black family from Texas that accidentally turned onto the bridge toward Canada and was stopped after turning around the car to head back south.

The lawsuit says border officers called the local police department when they noticed the driver lacked a valid licence, which, it says, is not the way similar incidents are handled involving white drivers.

A supervisor then threatened the driver with arrest unless he had someone come to the border to drive his vehicle home — which, again, the lawsuit calls unusual.

“Management went above and beyond in trying to get this person arrested. He had no warrants, no criminal history,” Jermaine Broderick, one of the plaintiffs, said in an interview with CBC News.

“There was no reason to try to put this person in jail.”