By Tami Abdollah
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Lawmakers sent a letter on Wednesday to the Justice Department saying new guidelines restricting federal law enforcement agencies from racial profiling don't go far enough.
U.S. Rep. Judy Chu, a Democrat who chairs the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, sent the concerns to Attorney General Eric Holder.
She was joined by leaders of the congressional black, Hispanic and progressive caucuses. The letter urges the Justice Department to remove remaining loopholes.
The new policy expands on guidelines established in 2003 under the Bush administration that banned routine racial profiling but allowed broad exceptions for national security and didn't account for other characteristics.
Along with religion and national origin, the new rules ban profiling on the basis of gender, gender identity and sexual orientation.
But they include exceptions, among them exempting Homeland Security agents responsible for screening at airports and at the nation's borders
"The current exemptions in the profiling guidance effectively authorize discrimination in the name of national security, domestic surveillance and border security," the letter states.
It continues, "These exceptions are troubling because border and screening activities are precisely the areas where profiling has been the most pervasive."
The letter, also signed by Reps. G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina, Linda Sanchez of California, Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Raul Grijalva of Arizona, also takes issue with the FBI's domestic mapping and surveillance programs, which they called discriminatory.
"It's clear that there is religious profiling going on whereby certain people are stopped just because they are Sikh or just because they are Muslim," Chu told The Associated Press in an interview.
The letter urges Holder to require local and state law enforcement agencies receiving federal assistance to adhere to the profiling guidelines.
Chu said the caucuses wanted to emphasize concerns before Holder left office later this year. Chu also sent a letter in December on behalf of the Asian Pacific caucus to U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, urging that guideline gaps be closed.
Alejandro Mayorkas, deputy secretary of DHS, earlier wrote in response to the December letter that the department has asked the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties to review activities not directly covered by the new guidance.
"We will enhance our policies where appropriate," he said.
Mayorkas wrote that a listed characteristic may be expressly relevant to the administration or enforcement of a statute or regulation.
For example, he said sometimes U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers must ask about a person's religion because it is relevant to the type of visa the person is using and their reason for entering the country.
In that circumstance, inquiring about religion "as required by law ... is clearly appropriate and unrelated to profiling," Mayorkas said.