ACLU says Border Patrol agents confiscate turbans from Sikh men

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.

The letter, sent Aug. 1 and first reported by The Intercept and the nonprofit Arizona Luminaria newsroom, alleges that 64 such cases have been reported in the Yuma Border Patrol sector so far. present this year – mostly in the past two months – by Sikh asylum seekers. who were released and sought help at a reception center in Phoenix.
Sikhism is the world’s fifth largest religion, according to the Sikh Coalition, and there are more than 500,000 American Sikhs.
Devout Sikh men do not cut their hair or shave because they believe that you should maintain your body the way God created you. Turbans are worn as a means of keeping the head covered out of respect in public and religious spaces.
“By confiscating and failing to return the turbans of individual Sikhs, CBP is directly interfering with their religious practice and compelling them to violate their religious beliefs,” the ACLU’s letter states, noting the significance of the policy of the agency requiring officers to “remain aware of an individual’s identity”. religious beliefs while performing an enforcement action in a dignified and respectful manner.”

“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.”

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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

News of the alleged violations comes as increasing numbers of migrants from around the world cross the US-Mexico border in the Yuma sector, which stretches 126 miles from the Imperial Sand Dunes in California to the county line of Yuma-Pima in Arizona.
Migrants from multiple countries overwhelm the US-Mexico border, adding to Biden administration's challenges

For years, the vast majority of migrants trying to cross the border came from Mexico or Central America.

“The countries we’re getting now – these nationalities are flying in, coming to the border, and they have to be processed and there are so many that it’s a challenge for the workforce,” Yuma Border Patrol said. Area manager Chris Clem told CNN last month, noting that up to 1,000 migrants are apprehended daily.
Last year, the mayor of Yuma issued a local emergency ordinance in response to a growing number of migrants crossing there.
In 2019, advocates told CNN they were seeing more Indian migrants, including Sikhs, coming to the US-Mexico border and seeking asylum.

CNN’s Manveena Suri, Huizhong Wu and Harmeet Kaur contributed to this report.

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