Report: Newark TSA Airport Screeners Targeted Mexicans

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A scene from the TSA screening at Newark Liberty International Airport

A special unit of the TSA at Newark Liberty International Airport, trained to detect suspicious behavior, reportedly earned the nickname “Mexican hunters” for racial profiling.

The team, officially known as Behavior Detection Officers (BDOs), who are part of the TSA’s SPOT program (Screening of Passengers by Observation Technique), took it upon themselves to single out Mexican and Dominican air passengers, according to a federal report. BDOs are trained to seek out nervous, erratic or evasive gestures or speech when deciding who to select for extra screening. But instead BDOs at Newark Airport’s Terminal B — an international terminal — were reportedly pulling aside those who appeared to be of Mexican or Dominican descent in order to check the validity of their visas or passports, according to a federal report.

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One officer who is cited in the report — who said he did not follow orders from his managers to single out people by race — told investigators: “When I disagreed with these referrals and brought it to the attention of the BDO managers, I was told by the BDO managers that I was not a team player.” Several managers implicated in the accusations denied that they ordered officers to profile Mexicans and Dominicans. But the report, which the Star-Ledger reported as being dated January 2010, contends that managers ordered BDOs to profile based on race in order to drive up the number of referrals by Newark’s BDO unit — essentially to make themselves look more productive.

The report also states that officers were made to believe that promotions were based on the number of referrals for which they were responsible, which motivated them to continue targeting Mexicans and Dominicans as a wise career move. The TSA, which stressed that it does not single out travelers based on race, ethnicity or religion, retrained all BDOs at Newark Airport — but did not, as it appears, fire any of the offending officers.

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