The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Arizona noted in an Aug. 1 letter to CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus that the confiscation of turbans by U.S. border agents has occurred along the Yuma sector, sharply rising in June. But Arizona Luminaria reports that the worker with Casa Alitas “said that the the violations extend beyond Yuma, sharing reports of Sikhs passing through Lukeville in Border Patrol’s Tucson sector also having their turbans confiscated.”
The seizure of sacred headwear by border agents along the Tucson sector became so aggressive that a volunteer bought a large quantity of fabric so that migrants arriving to intake appointments could try to replace the turbans stolen from them. “They could personally account for about 20 people who had recently had their turbans confiscated by Border Patrol, but were confident the number is significantly higher.” The Casa Alitas volunteer also supplied documentation tallying border officials cruelly denying vegetarian meals to migrants.
The letter to Magnus details abuses in the Yuma sector, but offers no insight into the Tucson abuses. Arizona Luminaria reports that the workers spoke to the outlet confidentially. Casa Alitas, one of the borderland organizations that helps serve newly arrived migrant families, would not comment on the information shared by workers, only to say they were violating their media policy, the report noted. “We were advised not to talk to the press about anything to maintain our relationship with Border Patrol, but sitting here and doing nothing is not helping anything,” one worker told the outlet.
Following the disturbing initial reports of the confiscations, Magnus said that an investigation will be opened into the abuses. “Our expectation is that CBP employees treat all migrants we encounter with respect,” he said in a statement reported by The Washington Post. “An internal investigation has been opened to address this matter.”
“Robust protections for religious exercise are crucial in settings where individuals are in government custody,” civil rights advocates said in the letter to Magnus. “Yuma Border Patrol Sector’s actions against Sikh asylees are especially egregious because the ability to wear a turban is a core tenet of the Sikh faith and religious practice. Yuma officials must cease their practice of confiscating turbans or any other religious headwear.”
“Lastly, we note that the permanent confiscation of religious headwear is but one piece of a more universal, well-documented, and recurring practice by agents in the Yuma Border Patrol Sector of forcing apprehended migrants to discard nearly all of their personal property in advance of processing,” they continued. “We will be following up with you in coming weeks to address this broader problem, but we seek your immediate action to prevent the confiscation of turbans or religious headwear.”
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