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US border patrol confiscated 64 turbans of Sikh asylum-seekers, says ACLU

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By Asia Samachar | United States |

US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents have been accused of ramping up seizing of turbans from Sikh asylum-seekers at Yuma, Arizona.

In the months of June and July alone, nearly 50 such cases of of asylees arriving from Yuma were reported, a sharp rise for similar incidents from the months before, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

The incidents were reported by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) of Arizona which operates a reception site in Phoenix that receives a large proportion of asylees who are released from Department of Homeland Security (DHS) custody within Arizona.

The increasing frequency has prompted concern that border officials have ramped up their efforts to seize the turbans, ACLU wrote in a letter to the CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus.

“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,” according to the letter from ACLU Arizona.

The Yuma border is primarily a desert terrain divided between California and Arizona, consisting of vast open deserts, rocky mountain ranges, large drifting sand dunes and the ever changing Colorado River.

The letter said the practice blatantly violate federal law and 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.’

The organisation has also called for a prompt investigation into the civil-rights violations and direct Yuma Border Patrol Sector agents to immediately cease what it deems as unlawful practices.

Between January 2022 and July 2022, IRCArizona had received 65 reports CBP removing religious headwear, with 47 of them occurring in June and July. These reports included one Muslim woman whose hijab was seized and never returned during border patrol processing, the letter added.

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

“A generous advocate has supplied the Welcome Center with more than fifty turbans by soliciting them from family, friends, and congregations. Unfortunately, this is not a long-term solution because of the sheer number of turbans needed,” it said.

However, the letter noted that the concerns about Border Patrol’s confiscation of religious headwear were not new, as ACLU had sent a letter in March 2019 to report on similar incidents.

“Robust protections for religious exercise are crucial in settings where individuals are in government custody. Yuma Border Patrol Sector’s actions against Sikh asylees are especially egregious because the ability to wear a turban is a core tenet of the Sikh faith and religious practice.

“Yuma officials must cease their practice of confiscating turbans or any other religious headwear. We request that you take immediate and concrete steps to end all such confiscations in Yuma and all other sectors,” it added.

“Lastly, we note that the permanent confiscation of religious headwear is but one piece 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.”

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(Asia Samachar, x 2022)



ASIA SAMACHAR is an online newspaper for Sikhs / Punjabis in Southeast Asia and beyond.Facebook | WhatsApp +6017-335-1399 | Email: asia.samachar@gmail.com | Twitter | Instagram | Obituary announcements, click here



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