Representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union have denounced what they called illegal and “serious violations of religious liberty” and called on US Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Chris Magnus to d ‘investigate.
“We are talking specifically about Sikh migrants who flee their country because of religious persecution… make a very traumatic trip to the United States, and upon entering are then forced to remove a sacred element of their religion, a fundamental tenet of their belief system,” says Vanessa Pineda, immigrant rights attorney at the ACLU of Arizona.
Partner organizations that work directly with migrants have reported an increase in the number of turbans being taken by Sikh asylum seekers, Pineda said. The practice is “dehumanizing and humiliating,” she told CNN.
CBP says it has opened an internal investigation
The CBP commissioner told CNN in a statement that an investigation is ongoing.
“We take allegations of this nature very seriously,” Magnus said in a statement to CNN. “This matter was raised in June and immediate action was taken to remedy the situation. We expect CBP employees to treat all migrants we encounter with respect. An internal investigation has been initiated to resolve this problem.”
The agency says it has provided additional guidance to field leaders “reiterating the expectation that staff exercise particular care when handling religious property.” It also says the agency’s procedures allow its staff to dispose of items “that present an obvious health or safety hazard.”
In their letter, ACLU officials said they saw little evidence of concrete action after the issue was raised in meetings in June and July.
“We continue to see this happening. … All the efforts made locally by our partner organizations, there has been no change. And in fact, there has been an increase in the last two months,” Pineda said.
It’s possible the actual number of people affected is higher, Pineda said, noting that rights groups are only aware of self-reported incidents.
Migrants from many countries show up at the border
For years, the vast majority of migrants trying to cross the border came from Mexico or Central America.
CNN’s Manveena Suri, Huizhong Wu and Harmeet Kaur contributed to this report.