Known as the "Mexican Hunters" by some of their colleagues, a unit of airport security screeners at Newark Liberty International Airport engaged in racial profiling of Mexicans and Dominicans, according to a 2010 internal TSA report obtained by The Star-Ledger newspaper.
The members of the special unit — officially known as behavior detection officers, or BDO’s — were responsible for detecting suspicious behavior, such as nervous, erratic or evasive gestures that would indicate criminal or potential terrorist activity and therefore justify further scrutiny.
The report said that the accused airport screeners, who worked at the international Terminal B, concentrated their efforts on Mexican and Dominican passengers in order to question them, conduct bag searches and pat downs, and refer them to immigration. The screeners would later back-fill behaviors as cover-up for their scrutiny.
While there are no specific numbers on how many were actually racially profiled, the TSA's own internal investigation, known as the “Boston Report,” according to the The Star-Ledger, leaves no doubt that “the practice was widespread” and lasted from early 2008 to late 2009.
In a statement to the The Star-Ledger, the TSA acknowledged that their official policies against racial profiling were “overstepped” but said that, "eighteen months ago, TSA took immediate remedial action and retrained the entire behavior detection workforce at Newark."
The report was based largely on statements from BDO’s who claimed that they were instructed to use racial profiling by their managers as a way to drive up referral numbers by the Newark BDO unit, so that the group would appear more productive.
But not all of the BDO’s admit that the racial profiling happened.
Only one of the four BDO unit managers at the time was disciplined as a result of the report's findings. Luis Chevere was demoted to an entry rank position and had his salary cut in half. Chevere, 57, who grew up in Puerto Rico, denied that racial profiling did happen or that there was a quota of referrals for the unit.
Chevere believes that he was made a scapegoat because he is Hispanic.