The mistreatment of Sikh migrants on the US-Mexico border is reportedly far more widespread than previously thought.
US Customs and Border Patrol agents in multiple sectors have reportedly dumped hundreds of sacred turbans from Sikh border crossings, denying migrants religiously mandated vegetarian meals, instead allowing them to eat apple juice and crackers or telling them they ” can starve.” ”, according to a study by the Arizona Luminariaciting unnamed border aid workers who are familiar with the assault.
“A Sikh man, when I handed him a turban to cover his hair, started crying and kissing the fabric,” one person told the outlet, recalling “a group of vegetarian Sikhs said they lived seven days from apple juice and crackers.”
Aid workers have bought their own pieces of cloth so that migrants can make new turbans for themselves.
The new allegations are in line with previous complaints about how the border patrol has treated Sikh migrants.
Earlier this week, the American Civil Liberties Union wrote to the agency, drawing attention to “serious violations of religious freedom” in at least 64 cases in Yuma’s border sector over the past two months, the legal organization said.
“By confiscating and not returning the turbans of Sikhs, the CBP is directly interfering with their religious practice and forcing them to violate their religious beliefs,” the ACLU wrote in an Aug. 1 letter to the agency, pointing to it. Border Police’s official policy that officers “keep abreast of a person’s religious beliefs while carrying out an enforcement action in a dignified and respectful manner.”
Sikh migrants, many of whom are fleeing persecution in India by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Hindu national Bharatiya Janata party, described humiliating treatment.
“They told me to take off my turban. I know a little English and I said, ‘It’s my religion.’ But they insisted,” one man told The Intercept, who first reported on the ACLU letter. Agents even insisted on cutting the man’s traditional Sikh underwear, ostensibly for security reasons.
“I felt so bad,” said the man.
The border patrol said earlier this week it was opening an internal investigation into the allegations and was taking unspecified steps “to address the situation”.
“Our expectation is that CBP employees will treat all migrants we encounter with respect,” CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus said in an emailed statement earlier this week.
In June, an ombudsman for the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the Border Patrol, visited a Phoenix facility and was warned of complaints of religious abuse, according to the ACLU.
“We are talking specifically about Sikh migrants fleeing their country because of religious persecution… who make a very traumatic journey to the United States, and upon entry are forced to remove a sacred piece of their religion, a core tenet of their belief system,” Vanessa Pineda, an immigrant rights attorney for the Arizona ACLU, told UKTN.
Such reporting indicates that the agency has been aware of the issue for weeks without any apparent change.
“We take allegations of this nature very seriously,” Border Patrol said UKTN in a statement.
It declined to say what specific steps were being taken to resolve the assault claims, or when the internal investigation would be completed.
Last year, UKTN reported that the first person killed in a post-9/11 hate crime was a Sikh man named Balbir Singh Sodhi, who owned a gas station in Arizona. Sodhi was shot by a racist gunman on September 15, 2001, the same day the business owner made a donation to a 9/11 emergency fund.
Since then, Sikhs have been the target of other hate incidents and have also been singled out for placement in immigration databases and invasive screening at US airports.