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Jewish World Review May 9, 2001 / 16 Iyar, 5761

Amy Holmes

Amy Holmes
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Consumer Reports

Now they're 'profiling' presidents' daughters? -- WILD first child Jenna Bush graces the tabloids again. During a police crackdown April 27 at a club popular with students, the 19-year-old college freshman was charged with alcohol possession by a minor, a misdemeanor. Undercover officers said she was drinking a substance resembling beer.

What makes this story interesting aside from its central character is that the techniques used to identify and charge Bush might, in another setting, be called "profiling." Officers went to an area known for a specific activity, surveyed the scene, made a generalized assessment of the patrons, approached and demanded proof of innocence. Bush was snared based on her appearance and proximity and the officers' experience.

Similar tactics led to a lawsuit, now settled, against the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) by Unite, the garment workers' union. According to The New York Times, INS agents often cited skin color, use of Spanish, foreign accents and clothing "not typical of North America" as primary evidence that workers were likely illegal.

As part of a pattern INS officials said may have violated its anti-profiling guidelines, one Manhattan deli was singled out based on a tip that half its 20 workers were Mexicans here illegally. Surreptitious observations revealed that employees appeared to be of South or Central American descent. Some spoke Spanish; others, English with a foreign accent.

The objections raised to these tactics, however, ignore the fact that the police work was solid: Four of the deli workers were indeed illegal immigrants. In fact, "all but a handful" of 37 raids the newspaper reviewed resulted in the arrests of illegal workers.


Yes, it is discriminatory to single out citizens for "driving while black" or being the wrong skin color in the wrong neighborhood. In such cases, race or ethnicity is a red herring or, worse, an excuse for police harassment. But some visual and aural observations, combined with specific knowledge, such as a tip or past dealings with an employer, are simply common-sense police work. Bush was correctly targeted based on how she looked, what she was doing and where she was. So were the deli workers. Taxpayers would rightly be perplexed if the INS had concentrated instead on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, even if some stockbrokers do speak Spanish or listen to Spanish-language radio stations.

Jenna Bush will likely pay a fine as a result of her run-in with the law. Happily, she probably can expect that her next profile will involve a celebrity magazine instead of a police officer.

JWR contributor Amy Holmes is a Washington-based writer. To comment, click here.


© 2001, Amy Holmes