ACLU Urges Customs and Border Protection to Stop Confiscating Turbans of Sikh Asylum Seekers
- The organization says it has documented almost 50 cases and urged the commissioner “to promptly investigate these civil-rights violations and direct agents in the Yuma Border Patrol Sector to immediately cease these unlawful practices.”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Arizona has sent a letter to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) claiming that the religious rights of dozens of Sikh asylum seekers were violated recently by Border Patrol agents in Yuma, Arizona. The Aug. 1 letter, addressed to CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus, ACLU, and first reported by The Intercept, says that since June, it has documented almost 50 cases in which agents confiscated the turbans, denouncing the seizures as “ongoing, serious religious-freedom violations.” Additionally, the ACLU urged Magnus “to promptly investigate these civil-rights violations and direct agents in the Yuma Border Patrol Sector to immediately cease these unlawful practices.”
Meanwhile, The Intercept has reported that “Yuma’s Border Patrol has confiscated at least 64 turbans this year,” citing the ACLU of Arizona and the Phoenix Welcome Center. “The turban confiscations have ramped up in recent months,” Maria Jose Pinzon, a program manager for Phoenix Welcome Center said.
The Intercept report also named several Sikh asylum seekers like Gurjodh Singh, 22, who is “fleeing India for America, without any family, to seek political asylum,” or Bhupinder, 18, who told the non-profit news organization that he refused to remove his purple turban when asked by the Border Patrol agents to do so.
The report also quoted an unidentified Sikh man, who a month earlier was ordered by the Border Patrol to turn over his belongings —“including two sacred symbols of his faith.” The man told Intercept last month that he was told to take off his turban. “I know a little English, and I said, ‘It’s my religion.’ But they insisted.” According to the report, he “pleaded with the officers, who forced him to remove his turban and tossed it in a trash pile.” When he asked if he could at least keep his turban for when he was released from custody, they refused, he said. “I felt so bad.”
According to The Washington Post, CBP officials in the agency’s Yuma sector have seen “a historic influx of asylum seekers from nations all over the world, including India in recent months.” Citing recent data from the CBP, The Post said “nearly 10,000 Indian nationals have been taken into custody by agents in Yuma during fiscal 2022, which began Oct. 1.”
The ACLU letter said the confiscation of the turbans was part of a “more universal, well-documented, and recurring practice by agents in the Yuma Border Patrol Sector of forcing apprehended migrants to discard nearly all of their personal property in advance of processing.”
The ACLU letter also gave details about Sikhism and the religious importance of the turban. “The Sikh faith is the world’s fifth largest organized religion,” the letter says, adding that there are “approximately 30 million Sikhs worldwide, and over 500,000 Sikhs reside in the United States.” According to the letter, “many Sikhs wear an external uniform to unify and bind them to the beliefs of the religion and to always remind them of their commitment to Sikh teachings.”The ACLU continued: “When a Sikh ties a turban, the turban ceases to be just a piece of cloth and becomes one and the same with the Sikh’s head. It is a religious commitment without which many Sikhs may feel that they have ceased to be a Sikh.”
In response, CBP officials told The Post that they have recently reminded Border Patrol supervisors that agency policies require agents to exercise care when handling “personal property items of a religious nature.”
(Top image, courtesy pgurus.com)