Border Patrol illegally confiscating Sikh asylum seekers’ turbans

Seizing religious items

U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) have been seizing turbans from Sikh asylum seekers at the southern border in violation of federal law and official CBP policy.

In a letter to CBP, the ACLU said there had been nearly 50 documented cases of Sikhs saying religious headwear was taken and never returned as they passed through CBP checks in Yuma, Arizona.

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) of Arizona operates a reception site in Phoenix (“the Welcome Center”) that receives a large proportion of asylees who are released from Department of Homeland Security (DHS) custody within Arizona. In the last two months, IRC has documented almost 50 cases of asylees arriving from Yuma who reported that their religious headwear— specifically, turbans—had been confiscated by CBP. While the Welcome Center has encountered cases of religious headwear being confiscated every month of this year, in June 2022, the number of reports rose sharply, prompting concern that border officials have ramped up their efforts to seize these sacred items.

The turban is sacred in Sikhism, representing an individual’s commitment to the religion and its ideals of love and service to humanity. The Sikh Code of Conduct, called the Rehat Maryada, explicitly instructs that observant Sikhs wear a turban over their uncut hair. As the ACLU explains, “forcibly removing or targeting a Sikh’s turban or facial hair has symbolized denying that person the right to belong to the Sikh faith and is perceived by many as the most humiliating and hurtful physical and spiritual injury that can be inflicted upon a Sikh.”

Advocates contacted CBP about the seizure of religious head coverings numerous times over the past year with no improvement in agent behavior.

Despite numerous contacts about this issue, to our knowledge, no meaningful investigation has occurred. Only this week did Chief John Modlin (CBP Tucson), who has attended the Maricopa Asylum Stakeholders calls, finally reach out to IRC to state that he had raised the concern with the CBP Yuma Sector, who informed him that processing officials were being retrained. But IRC has yet to see any evidence of this. Indeed, as recently as this week, IRC has received additional reports of turban seizures by Yuma Border Patrol.

Busing migrants

More than three months since Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) began busing migrants to D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) is calling on the federal government to activate the National Guard to manage the district’s response.

The border states’ tactic, panned as a political stunt to scapegoat the most vulnerable people, has delivered more than 7,000 migrants to the nation’s capital with more arriving every day. The humanitarian response is largely falling on a volunteer network of mutual aid organizations, with citizens hosting migrant families in their own homes and crowdfunding to provide food and clothing to new arrivals.

…when Abbot announced his plans in April, a core group of about 20 D.C. activists set to work creating an emergency aid operation. For nearly two months now, the small group of volunteers has been stretched to the limit: They meet buses arriving at Union Station at all hours of the morning and night; they provide medical care and organize transportation for people leaving the city; and they feed, clothe, and even shelter people in their own homes…

As organizers have expanded their efforts in recent weeks, they’ve teamed up with a local church, a coffeehouse, and a hotel so that migrants have a comfortable place to rest and a warm meal after their 33-to-50 hour bus ride. (For safety and privacy reasons, DCist/WAMU is not naming these locations). They’ve coordinated through regular meetings and various messaging services, like Signal and WhatsApp. Organizers juggle multiple threads as they work to connect new arrivals with whatever they need: a bus ticket to another destination, temporary housing, new shoes, or a cell phone.

Volunteers, activists, and local representatives have been asking Mayor Bowser for assistance for months. A letter sent by Councilwoman Brianne K. Nadeau (D-Ward 1) presses the city to release contingency funds, provide city staff members to assist migrants’ arrival, create respite centers near Union Station, and provide coronavirus tests, protective equipment, and isolation hotels for those who have been infected with the coronavirus.

Since April 13, our constituents have been showing up daily to greet and support migrants. We have heard from our mutual aid networks that volunteers have spent over $220,000 of their own money in support of these efforts. But after three months with no direct support from the District government, they are burned out and overwhelmed. With the number of buses arriving every day increasing rapidly, we encourage you to mobilize your administration to coordinate with other jurisdictions in the region to step in and assist with the response. If the District truly is a sanctuary city, we must stand up against the hateful rhetoric of Governor Abbott and provide a dignified welcome to the arriving migrants.

Instead, Mayor Bowser wants to militarize the response by calling in the National Guard. As Washington Post columnist Petula Dvorak pointed out last week, “This isn’t a policing problem or a military emergency…This is a humanitarian crisis, and we need to approach it with humanity.”

“What I’ve been hearing consistently from migrants is that when the military is there, they get treated like militants,” said Bianca Vazquez, who has been an organizer with the mutual-aid groups meeting the migrants.

Deadly car chases

The ACLU of Texas is asking the Justice Department to investigate racial profiling and discrimination against Latino drivers that “turn into deadly vehicle pursuits with alarming frequency.”

At least 30 people have died in car chases initiated by the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) as part of Operation Lone Star (OLS).

DPS’s saturation presence in South Texas has deadly consequences. In the 16 months since the start of OLS, DPS has engaged in vehicle pursuits that have killed at least 30 people. This death toll includes drivers and passengers of pursued vehicles, and bystanders who happened to be on the same road as a DPS vehicle pursuit. Because DPS has historically disproportionately targeted Latinx drivers for traffic stops and because OLS itself has indicia of bias-based policing, these vehicle pursuits likely disproportionately kill Latinx drivers and passengers. DPS has to our knowledge made no effort to remedy this problem of deadly consequences to its vehicle pursuits…

Since the start of OLS, vehicle pursuits in which DPS has been involved in counties with an OLS presence56 have led to at least 30 fatalities and 71 injuries—an extremely high number. This figure is based on publicly available information—collating news accounts throughout South Texas. By comparison, in 2021 Border Patrol vehicle pursuits caused 23 deaths across the entire southern border, from California to Texas.

The ACLU also alerted the Justice Department to alleged DPS ties to rightwing extremists. According to a letter sent last week, a DPS officer is close friends with Lucas Denney, the leader of the Patriot Boys—a white supremacist vigilante group aligned with the Proud Boys—and a participant in the January 6th insurrection:

A DPS officer’s friendship with a leader of a white supremacist vigilante group in a county participating in OLS warrants severe scrutiny–particularly given a lack of clarity as to when the two met and interacted. This tie between a DPS officer and a January 6 insurrectionist, possibly in the context of OLS, highlights the need for federal investigation of discriminatory policing by DPS in Texas’s anti-immigrant initiative.