WASHINGTON — A North Carolina sheriff's department systematically targeted Hispanics for traffic checks and other infringements, the US Justice Department ruled Tuesday after a two-year investigation.

Alamance County Sheriff's Office had an "egregious pattern" of profiling, which violated the Constitution and federal law, engaging in "discriminatory policing against Latinos," officials said.

The sheriff's office would "explicitly instruct deputies to target Latinos with discriminatory traffic stops and other enforcement activities," said the justice department probe.

Thomas Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, said the sheriff's action had created distrust between the police and the community and harmed the reporting of crime and cooperation in criminal investigations.

As such, a study found "deputies were between four and 10 times more likely to stop Latino drivers than non-Latino drivers."

And once Hispanics are stopped in the eastern US state they face discriminatory checks on their migration status.

"The department will seek to obtain a court enforceable, comprehensive, written agreement remedying the violations and incorporating these reforms" from the Alamance sheriff, the Justice Department added.

Hispanics are the United States' largest ethnic minority -- and more than half are of Mexican descent or origin.

The US Supreme Court in June declared as unconstitutional, most of an Arizona law that would have required anyone stopped in the state to offer migration-paper proof of legal presence in the United States.

The nation's top court, however, did allow state police officers in Arizona, which borders Mexico, to ask people suspected of being illegal immigrants to show identification papers.

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