Mistreatment of Sikh immigrants at the US-Mexico border is reportedly far more widespread than previously thought.
U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents in multiple areas have reportedly trashed hundreds of sacred turbans belonging to Sikh border crossers and denied migrants religiously mandated vegetarian meals, instead sending them to eat apple juice and crackers or telling them that they could “starve to death,” according to one research from Arizona Luminariaciting anonymous border agents who are aware of the abuse.
“One Sikh man, when I gave him a turban to cover his hair, started crying and kissed the cloth,” one person told the agency, recalling “a group of Sikh vegetarians said they lived on apple juice and crackers for seven days.” .
Aid workers have started buying lots of fabric themselves so the migrants can make new turbans.
The new allegations combine with previous complaints about the way the Border Patrol treated Sikh immigrants.
Earlier this week, the American Civil Liberties Union wrote to the agency, citing “serious violations of religious freedom” in at least 64 cases in the Yuma border area over the past two months, according to the legal group.
“By seizing and failing to return the turbans of Sikh individuals, 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, noting official policy of the Border Patrol that officers “remain aware of an individual’s religious beliefs while conducting an enforcement action in a dignified and respectful manner.”
Sikh immigrants, many of whom are fleeing persecution in India by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, have 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 persisted,” one man told The Intercept, which first reported on the ACLU letter. The agents even insisted on cutting off the man’s traditional Sikh underwear, ostensibly for security reasons.
“I felt so bad,” the man said.
The Border Patrol said earlier this week that it had opened an internal investigation into the allegations and was taking unspecified steps “to address the situation.”
“Our expectation is that CBP officers treat all immigrants we encounter with respect,” CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus he said in an emailed statement earlier this week.
In June, an ombudsman from the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the Border Patrol, visited a facility in Phoenix and was informed of allegations of religious mistreatment, according to the ACLU.
“We’re talking about Sikh immigrants who leave their countries because of religious persecution … they make a very traumatic journey to the United States and upon entering they are forced to take away a sacred part of their religion, a core tenet of their belief system,” the Vanessa Pineda, immigrant rights attorney for the ACLU of Arizona; he told CNN.
Such reports indicate that the agency has been aware of the problem for weeks without any apparent change.
“We take allegations of this nature very seriously,” the Border Patrol said The independent in a statement.
He declined to say what specific steps were taken to remedy the abuse allegations or when the internal investigation would be completed.
Last year, The independent mentionted that the first person killed in a hate crime after 9/11 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 donated to a 9/11 relief fund.
Since then, Sikhs have been the target of other hate incidents and have also been flagged for placement in immigration databases and invasive screening at US airports.