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Racial Bias in Airport Detainment and Search Alleged in ACLU Lawsuit


December 1994

The ACLU has filed a lawsuit charging that U.S. Customs Service agents used a racial profile to detain and search two Bethlehem, Pa. men when they returned from a vacation in Jamaica ("Two Men Sue Federal Government After N.J. Airport Drug Search," National Report on Substance Abuse, Nov. 25, 1994, p. 1; Nat Hentoff, "'This Shouldn't Be Happening in America,'" Washington Post, Dec. 17, 1994, p. A27).

The suit, filed Nov. 1 in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia, alleges that James Garcia and Evaristo Vazquez were stopped by agents in Newark, New Jersey's International Airport on Feb. 3, 1994 and had their luggage searched. According to the suit, the agents then subjected the two to strip searches. When the searches did not produce any drugs, the agents handcuffed the travellers and took them to a local hospital for X-rays. The men were told that they were suspected of smuggling drugs in their stomachs or intestines.

After the X-rays, the agents released Garcia. Vazquez was told that his X-rays revealed a balloon in his stomach that contained drugs. The man was then given laxatives and handcuffed to his bed until he moved his bowels. No drugs were found.

Philadelphia ACLU Legal Director Stefan Presser said that the two men were treated in the manner described in the suit "simply because of their ethnic and national origin."