Michigan Investigates an Alleged Racial Profiling Incident Affecting a Naturalized Citizen

police car

A traffic stop by a Michigan State Police (MSP) officer in Livonia has led to an internal investigation due to allegations of racial profiling and harassment. The officer allegedly interrogated a naturalized U.S. citizen about his immigration status, then arrested him and detained him for several hours. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan called for an investigation, which the MSP has agreed to conduct. The incident primarily concerns issues of racial profiling, but it potentially has implications for immigrant populations and minorities nationwide who face more and more scrutiny from law enforcement, regardless of their immigration status.

On February 8, 2011, a MSP officer stopped Tiburcio Briceno, a naturalized American citizen originally from Mexico, who was driving a van registered to his employer. The officer told Briceno he had run a red light, but never gave Briceno a ticket. According to an ACLU press release, the officer proceeded to interrogate Briceno about his immigration status. Briceno’s English is limited, and he claims the officer did not accept the validity of his Michigan chauffeur’s license. The officer contacted Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) and ordered Briceno out of his vehicle. The officer allegedly handcuffed Briceno and told him he would be deported. Briceno’s vehicle was impounded, and he was taken to another location to await the CBP officers. Briceno says that he repeatedly told the officer he was a citizen and tried to show his social security card, but the officer would not look at it. CBP officers arrived and released Briceno when they confirmed that he was telling the truth. The ordeal lasted several hours.

The ACLU of Michigan took on Briceno’s case and sent a letter to the MSP in late March urging an investigation of the incident, as well as a written apology to Briceno. The organization accuses the officer of singling out Briceno because of his race and lack of English proficiency. It also notes that Briceno’s story is far from unique, as similar incidents occur all over the country to people based on their appearance or accent. In some states, particularly Alabama and Arizona, statutes require law enforcement to inquire about a person’s immigration status if they have “probable cause” to believe the person might be undocumented. This Immigration Visa Lawyer Blog reported on the arrest of a German citizen in Alabama, who happened to be an executive with Mercedes-Benz visiting the company’s Tuscaloosa plant, much to the state’s embarrassment.

The problem with practices like those alleged in this case is that they encourage law enforcement to profile people based on their appearance, race, ethnicity, or language. In Alabama and Arizona, the law practically requires them to do so. Little to no guidance exists defining what ought to constitute “probable cause” for an officer. This not only drives a wedge between these populations and law enforcement, it separates immigrant communities from the rest of the country. It also creates an impression that certain people do not belong here, which will ultimately be harmful to the whole country.

Michigan immigration visa lawyer Gus Shihab helps people understand and navigate the U.S. immigration system, including the constantly-changing politics of our immigration laws. For a free and confidential consultation, contact us through our website or at (800) 625-3404.

More Blog Posts

Over 3,100 Arrested, Including 63 in Ohio and 67 in Michigan, in Nationwide ICE Immigration Sweep, Immigration Visa Lawyer Blog, April 6, 2012
Immigration Advocates in Michigan Criticize Secure Communities, Immigration Visa Lawyer Blog, March 30, 2012
Undocumented Students Rally in Detroit and Other Cities to Protest Deportation, Immigration Visa Lawyer Blog, March 23, 2012.