The mistreatment of Sikh migrants at the US-Mexico border is reportedly much more widespread than previously thought.
US Customs and Border Patrol agents in multiple sectors 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 they could ” starve”. “, according to a survey from Arizona Luminariaand does not name border aid workers familiar with the abuse.
“A Sikh man, when I gave him a turban to cover his hair, started crying and kissed the fabric,” one person told the outlet, recalling “a group of vegetarian Sikhs said they lived on apple juice and crackers for seven days. “
Aid workers have taken to buying lengths of cloth themselves so that migrants can make new turbans.
The new allegations join earlier complaints about how the Border Patrol has treated Sikh migrants.
Earlier this week, the American Civil Liberties Union wrote to the agency highlighting “serious violations of religious freedom” in at least 64 cases at the Yuma border sector in the past two months, according to the legal organization.
“By confiscating and failing to return Sikh individuals’ turbans, CBP directly interferes with their religious practices and forces them to violate their religious beliefs,” the ACLU wrote in an Aug. 1 letter to the agency, pointing to the Border Patrol’s official policy of that officers. “Remain aware of an individual’s religious beliefs while conducting an enforcement in a dignified and respectful manner.”
Sikh migrants, many of whom are fleeing persecution in India from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, described humiliating treatment.
“They asked me to take off my turban. I know a little English, and I said, ‘That’s my religion.’ But they insisted, one man told The Intercept, which first reported on the ACLU letter. Agents even insisted on cutting off the man’s traditional Sikh underwear, apparently for security reasons.
“I felt so bad,” the man said.
The Border Patrol said earlier this week that it was opening an internal investigation into the allegations and was taking unspecified steps “to address the situation.”
“Our expectation is that CBP employees treat all migrants we encounter with respect,” CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus said in an email 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 alerted to complaints of religious abuse, according to the ACLU.
“We’re talking specifically about Sikh migrants who are fleeing their countries because of religious persecution… who make a very traumatic journey to the United States and when they enter they are forced to remove a sacred part of their religion, a core in their belief system,” Vanessa Pineda, an immigrant rights attorney for the ACLU of Arizona, told CNN.
Such reporting suggests 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.
It declined to say what specific steps were being taken to address the allegations of misconduct or when the internal investigation would be completed.
Last year, The independent reported 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 singled out for placement in immigration databases and invasive screening at US airports.