Sikh turbans confiscated at Mexico border; US authorities to investigate

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Arizona sent a letter to Commissioner Chris Magnus US Customs and Border Protection, US Department of Homeland Security, and said the practice of confiscating turbans “blatantly violates federal law”.

Sikh man turban
Representational image: Pexels

US authorities have said they are investigating claims that turbans of Sikh asylum seekers including those from India, were confiscated along the Mexican border near Yuma, Arizona, according to reports.

At least 50 Sikh men’s turbans were taken away by the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and never returned or replaced, reports said.

Also read: Sikh man shot dead in US while he sat in SUV

A BBC report said that record numbers of migrants from India have been detained at the US-Mexico border in recent months. Many hail from Punjab.

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As per CBP statistics, nearly 13,000 Indian citizens have been detained by Border Patrol officers at the US-Mexico border in the fiscal year that began in October. Of these, nearly 10,000 have been detained in the Border Patrol’s Yuma sector, a 202 km expanse of desert and rocky mountains that stretches from California’s Imperial Sand Dunes to the border between Arizona’s Yuma and Pima counties, the report added.

“They told me to take off my turban. I know a little English, and I said, ‘It’s my religion.’ But they insisted,” a Sikh man said, speaking through an interpreter in a July phone interview, a report on Intercept website said.

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The man pleaded with the officers, who forced him to remove his turban and tossed it in a trash pile. He asked if he could at least keep his turban for when he was released from custody. They told him no. “I felt so bad,” he said, according to the report.

On Monday (August 1), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Arizona sent a letter to Commissioner Chris Magnus US Customs and Border Protection, US Department of Homeland Security, and said the practice of confiscating turbans “blatantly violates federal law”.

“We write to inform you of ongoing, serious religious-freedom violations in the Yuma Border Patrol Sector, where your agents are confiscating turbans from Sikh individuals during asylum processing. In the last two months alone, our organizational partners in Arizona have documented nearly 50 cases of asylees arriving from Yuma who reported that their religious headwear had been taken by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and never returned or replaced,” the letter said.

“These practices blatantly violate federal law. They are also inconsistent with CBP’s own national standards and contrary to the agency’s non-discrimination policy, which states that ‘CBP employees must treat all individuals with dignity and respect…with full respect for individual rights including…freedom of….religion.’ We ask that you promptly investigate these civil-rights violations and direct agents in the Yuma Border Patrol Sector to immediately cease these unlawful practices. Furthermore, we respectfully request a meeting in the meantime to discuss your plan to remedy the situation,” it added.

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“We take allegations of this nature very seriously,” Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner Chris Magnus was quoted as saying in a statement to ABC News on Wednesday (August 3).

Magnus said the agency immediately began taking steps to address the allegations after they were raised in June.

“Our expectation is that CBP employees treat all migrants we encounter with respect. An internal investigation has been opened to address this matter,” he said.

According to ACLU, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) of Arizona operates a reception site in Phoenix (Welcome Center) that receives a large proportion of asylees who are released from Department of Homeland Security (DHS) custody within Arizona.

In the last two months, IRC has documented almost 50 cases of asylees arriving from Yuma who reported that their religious headwear — specifically, turbans — had been confiscated by CBP. While the Welcome Center has encountered cases of religious headwear being confiscated every month of this year, in June 2022, the number of reports rose sharply, prompting concern that border officials have ramped up their efforts to seize these sacred items, it said.

In response to these increasing reports of confiscated turbans, volunteers at the Welcome Center have tried to source turbans from the local Sikh community to provide replacements, it added.

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