The guidelines, issued by the Justice Department last week, prohibit federal law enforcement officers from using race or ethnicity in routine activities such as traffic stops. But they allow officers to consider those factors in preventing threats to national security — an exception attacked by several groups.
"They've left open a number of loopholes," said Hussein Ibish, a spokesman for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. "This directive has no teeth. It says, 'Racial profiling, no, no, no.' It doesn't actually provide any means to stop it."
Justice Department spokesman Mark Corallo defended the guidelines. He said attorneys "studied the issue very carefully in order to craft a policy that they think is morally right, legally right, practically right and constitutionally sound."
Among the policy's other shortcomings, according to black, Hispanic, Muslim, Asian-American and Arab-American advocacy groups:
— It doesn't require agencies to monitor their own compliance and fails to provide redress for people who have been profiled. Corallo acknowledged that's not in the policy, but said people can report problems to the Justice Department's civil rights division or the inspector general's office, as they have in the past.
— It doesn't call for collecting data on who is being stopped, or why.
— It fails to ban religious and national-origin profiling.
— It applies only to federal authorities, not state and local officials, though "a lot of the racial profiling that happens both on the border and the interior is harassment and abuse by state and local law enforcement," said Angela Arboleda, civil rights policy analyst at the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic advocacy group.
Corallo said the Justice Department doesn't have the authority to prohibit state and local authorities from racially profiling — only Congress can do that with legislation. Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., has proposed such a measure several times and plans to do so again later this year. Minority advocates support him.
The new policy's national security exception, which allows officers "protecting the integrity of the nation's borders" to consider race or ethnicity, is what most angers advocates.
"There is a huge exemption that says it is OK to profile Latinos and other ethnic and racial groups if you are part of securing the border, securing airports or in a national security instance," Arboleda said.
Andrew Rice, a spokesman for the National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium, said "there are plenty of Asians they could very easily say are national security concerns, people from Indonesia, people from the Philippines," places where terrorists are active. Visitors from those countries could be questioned or prevented from entering the United States, he said.
But officials don't want to handicap themselves "when it comes to protecting innocent Americans," Corallo said. "Obviously, we are fighting a war on terrorism and there may be instances where national origin comes into play in investigations."
The guidelines underscore how the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks have widened the scope of racial profiling, minority advocates say. The experience of being stopped "driving while black or brown" has now grown to include Muslims, Arabs and South Asians who are singled out by government policies, they say.
"Not only has racial profiling not gotten any better as it relates to those traditional victims of racial profiling," said Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP's Washington bureau, "it's actually expanded."
Sameerah Ali, 58, believes she was profiled when FBI and immigration agents knocked on her door the day the Iraq war began.
"They just went through files and anyone with an Arabic name, they pulled that file," said the Cheverly, Md. resident. "We are not terrorists or anything like that. They made a wrong decision, coming to people's houses without having any information, on just names alone."