United States authorities are investigating reports that border patrol agents in the Yuma, Arizona area confiscated the turbans of detained Sikh asylum seekers.
In a statement quoted by The Washington Post, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner Chris Magnus said on Aug. 3 that the CBP has launched an investigation on claims that agents seized turbans from detained migrants.
“Our expectation is that CBP employees treat all migrants we encounter with respect,” Magnus said.
In a letter sent to Magnus on Aug. 1, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Arizona said that since June, they documented nearly 50 cases in which agents seized turbans and never returned or replaced them.
ACLU criticized the turban confiscations as “ongoing, serious religious-freedom violations” that “blatantly violate federal law.”
ACLU noted that the seizures were contrary to the CBP’s non-discrimination policy, which states that its employees “must treat all individuals with dignity and respect… with full respect for individual rights including… freedom of… religion.”
In Sikhism, men are required to wear turbans and not to cut their hair.
Many migrants arriving in the U.S. from India are Sikhs from the Punjab region.
CBP typically requires migrants in their custody to discard personal items. However, items of value or importance that are not deemed contraband are supposed to be safeguarded and returned after release or deportation.
Immigrants’ Rights Staff Attorney Vanessa Pineda of ACLU of Arizona told the BBC that the CBP did not provide a proper explanation about what security concerns a turban could raise.
“It’s just not acceptable. They need to find another alternative and to stop this. It’s dehumanizing,” Pineda said.
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