Representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union decried what they said were unlawful and “serious religious-freedom violations” and asked US Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Chris Magnus to investigate.
“We’re talking about Sikh migrants specifically who are fleeing their countries because of religious persecution…making a very traumatic journey to the United States, and upon entering are then forced to remove a sacred piece of their religion, a core tenet of their belief system,” says Vanessa Pineda, immigrants’ rights staff attorney for the ACLU of Arizona.
Partner organizations who are working directly with migrants reported the uptick in Sikh asylum-seekers’ turbans being taken, Pineda said. The practice is “dehumanizing and humiliating,” she told CNN.
CBP says it’s opened an internal investigation
The CBP commissioner told CNN in a statement that an investigation is underway.
“We take allegations of this nature very seriously,” Magnus said in a statement released to CNN. “This issue was raised in June and steps were immediately taken to address the situation. Our expectation is that CBP employees treat all migrants we encounter with respect. An internal investigation has been opened to address this matter.”
The agency says it’s provided additional guidance to field leadership “reiterating the expectation that personnel exercise particular care when handling property items of a religious nature.” It also says the agency’s procedures allow its personnel to discard items “that pose a clear health or safety hazard.”
In their letter, the ACLU representatives said they saw little evidence of concrete action after the issue was raised at meetings in June and July.
“We keep seeing it happen. … All the efforts locally that our partner organizations took, there’s been no change. And in fact, there was an increase these past couple months,” Pineda said.
It’s possible the actual number of people impacted is higher, Pineda said, noting that rights groups only know about self-reported incidents.
Migrants from many countries are showing up at the border
For years, the vast majority of migrants attempting to cross the border were from Mexico or Central America.
CNN’s Manveena Suri, Huizhong Wu and Harmeet Kaur contributed to this report.