US officials are investigating reports that the turbans of Sikh refugees detained at the border were confiscated.
According to human rights advocates, about 50 migrants have been stripped of the religious cap. Sikhism requires that men wear turbans and not cut their hair. A record number of Indian migrants have recently been detained at the US-Mexico border. Many are from Punjab, India, where more than half the residents are Sikh.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has said the turban confiscations “blatantly violate federal law” and are inconsistent with the CBP’s non-discrimination policies.
A letter sent to US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner Chris Magnus on 1 August called the seizures “ongoing, serious religious-freedom violations”.
Lawyer Vanessa Pineda of the ACLU of Arizona told the BBC no proper explanation had been given about what – if any – security concerns a turban could raise. She said it is part of a wider situation where the personal property of migrants is being confiscated and disposed of without explanation or replacement.
“It’s just not acceptable,” she added. “They need to find another alternative and to stop this. It’s dehumanising.” In a statement by the Washington Post, the CBP’s Mr Magnus said the border agency expects its staff to “treat all migrants we encounter with respect.”
“An internal investigation has been opened to address this matter,” his statement said.
According to CBP statistics published online, nearly 13,000 Indian citizens have been detained by Border Patrol officers at the US-Mexico border in the fiscal year that began in October.
About three-quarters of these, about three-quarters – nearly 10,000 – have been detained in the Border Patrol’s Yuma sector, a 202 km (126 mile) expanse of desert and rocky mountains stretching from California’s Imperial Sand Dunes to the border between Arizona’s Yuma and Pima counties. In 2019. In a high-profile case, a six-year-old Indian citizen from Punjab was found dead near the Arizona town of Lukeville.
Authorities later said the little girl died of heatstroke in extreme temperatures of over 42 C (108 F) after her mother left her with another group of migrants to go and search for water.