ACLU Urges State Police to Investigate Racial Profiling Incident

March 21, 2012

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- In a letter today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan urged the Michigan State Police (MSP) to investigate a racial profiling incident in which an officer illegally detained a United States citizen and turned him over to Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) because of his appearance and language skills. The Grand Rapids resident had his car impounded and was handcuffed until CBP officers arrived even though he produced a valid license and repeatedly insisted he was a citizen.

“The illegal arrest of Tiburcio Briceno was not an innocent mistake made by an officer,” said Miriam Aukerman, ACLU of Michigan staff attorney. “Rather, this is a predictable consequence of local and state police attempting to enforce complicated immigration laws through racial profiling and ethnic stereotyping. There is nothing more un-American than denying an innocent citizen his fundamental freedom.”

In February 2011, Briceno, a naturalized citizen, was stopped by an MSP officer for a traffic violation while driving through Livonia in a registered company van. Rather than issue him a ticket, the officer interrogated Briceno about his immigration status apparently based on the fact that Briceno is of Mexican origin and speaks limited English. Dissatisfied with Briceno’s valid Michigan chauffeur’s license, the officer threatened to “kick his butt” if he was lying about his status.

After consulting Briceno’s records, the officer called CBP. The officer then ordered Briceno to get out of the car and told him that he was getting deported. Briceno’s car was impounded and he was transported to another location to wait for CBP officers. Throughout this ordeal, Briceno reiterated again and again that he was a U.S. citizen, and offered to show his social security card. The officer refused to look at the card. Briceno was released after CBP officers arrived and confirmed that he was telling the truth.

“Becoming a U.S. citizen was a proud moment for me,” said Briceno. “When I took the oath to this country, I felt that I was part of something bigger than myself; I felt that I was a part of a community and that I was finally equal to every other American. Although I still believe in the promise of equality, I know that I have to speak out to make sure it’s a reality for me, my family and my community. No American should be made to feel like a criminal simply because of the color of their skin or language abilities.” (Click here for the original quote in Spanish)

According to the ACLU’s letter, profiling by law enforcement based on race and English proficiency is clearly unconstitutional. In addition, the ACLU claims that by holding Briceno while verifying his immigration status, the officer was attempting to act as an immigration officer— a role that local law enforcement agencies do not have the authority to play.

The ACLU asked MSP for a written apology to Mr. Briceno. In addition, the ACLU urged the agency to conduct a thorough investigation and address any inadequacies in training or supervision that may have contributed to the incident. The ACLU also asked MSP to issue a written reminder to officers that it is illegal to use a person’s race, ethnicity, or language ability to assess immigration status. In addition, the ACLU requested training documents related to racial profiling, immigration enforcement and the translation services MSP officers use when encountering members of the public with limited English proficiency.

"The plight of Mr. Briceno is not an isolated story," said ACLU Cooperating Attorney Mario Cascante of the Avanti Law Group. "Dozens of U.S. citizens across the country have been wrongfully arrested, detained or deported. This case clearly illustrates why immigration investigations and enforcement should be left to the federal immigration agents who are trained in the law and the legal pitfalls of racial profiling.”

In addition to Aukerman and Cascante, Briceno is represented by Michael J. Steinberg and Sarah Mehta of the ACLU of Michigan.


Key News and Documents

Document | Read our letter to the Michigan State Police

More Info | Know Your Rights When Encountering the Police, Immigration or the FBI

More Info | Immigration Law Reform

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