3 Records of Alleged Abusive or Improper Conduct where the event type is “Religious Freedom Violation”

Early May, 2023

Reporting on May 11, 2023, the Nogales-based Kino Border Initiative (KBI), stated “CBP consistently perpetuates abuses, including throwing away migrants’ religious items and personal belongings and separating families.”

Among cases cited:

Armando [name changed to protect privacy] turned himself into the Border Patrol, where agents took his shoes, wallet with $55 USD and 200 Mexican pesos and his Bible. An agent threw away the Bible that had sustained him in his journey from Venezuela in the trash can in front of him.

— “May 11 update from KBI” (Nogales: Kino Border Initiative, May 11, 2023).

Sector(s): Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Confiscation of Documents, Non-Return of Belongings, Religious Freedom Violation

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Single Adult, Venezuela

August 3, 2022

Arizona Luminaria recounted the mistreatment of a Sikh asylum seeker who turned himself in to Yuma Sector Border Patrol agents.

On Aug. 3, a Sikh asylum-seeker crossed the border along with his wife and two young children near Yuma to turn themselves in to Border Patrol, according to Ahluwalia. After waiting more than 12 hours near the border wall, they were finally bused to the nearby station for processing.

After waiting all day in the sun — with the parents taking turns holding their young children, ages 2 and 4 — the man was feeling weak and ill, and was beginning to struggle to breathe. He was given water and allowed to sit down as two officers, one of whom he described as rude and aggressive ordered him to remove his turban, according to Ahluwalia.

He explained that he was happy to take it off and let them search it, but he wanted it back afterward. The officers took it off, took photos of him with his hair loose, and confiscated the turban. He said he felt humiliated.

As the processing continued, he told the officers he was feeling worse. They pressured him into signing paperwork he didn’t understand, telling him, “You need to sign this,” in a manner he felt was threatening, according to the case notes. They accused him of pretending to be sick, and one officer pulled him to his feet, pushed him against the wall, and handcuffed him.

His wife, who witnessed the aggression, began crying. When he tried to console her and his children, speaking to them in Punjabi, the officer who handcuffed him said, “You need to speak f—ing English,” he later told his attorney.

The officer then escorted him to a small solitary confinement cell and left him alone. He was in the room for a few hours, during which he threw up two to three times. Though he said there were cameras in the room, and he was banging on the door for help, nobody came. Finally, about three hours later, he was taken back to his family and an officer unshackled him.

He asked multiple times if he could have his turban back, according to Ahluwalia, but he never saw it again. He also repeatedly asked for medical attention, but was denied, with an officer explaining to him that he had already been given Tylenol. Four or five days later, after he was released, a volunteer at a welcome center in Tucson gave him cloth to cover his head.

“I wanted to cry,” he told his attorney. At the welcome center he tested positive for COVID-19, he told Ahluwalia.

— Washington, John. “Border Patrol Has New Orders Not to Trash Sikh Turbans but Isn’t Sharing Guidance Publicly, Advocates Say.” AZ Luminaria, September 19, 2022. <http://azluminaria.org/2022/09/19/border-patrol-now-instructing-agents-to-stop-taking-sikh-turbans/>.

Sector(s): Yuma

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Non-Return of Belongings, Religious Freedom Violation

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Family Unit, Sikh

August 1, 2022

A letter from the ACLU of Arizona, first covered by the Intercept and Arizona Luminaria, contended that Border Patrol agents in Yuma had confiscated at least 64 turbans from asylum seekers of the Sikh faith so far this year, including at least 50 in the prior 2 months.

These, the letter argues, are “serious religious-freedom violations” against members of the world’s fifth-largest organized religion, most prevalent in India’s Punjab region. “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,” the letter notes.

Citing interns at an Arizona migrant shelter, Arizona Luminaria reported on August 5 that “the number of turbans confiscated and discarded by Border Patrol is in the hundreds, far beyond the number reported earlier this week.”

CBP often faces allegations of throwing away migrants’ personal belongings. The ACLU letter called it a “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.” The Intercept adds: “Word has begun circulating among those seeking asylum in the Yuma area: Border Patrol is forcing everyone to throw away all personal belongings, except for cellphones, wallets, and travel documents.”

CBP officials told the Washington Post that “they have recently reminded Border Patrol supervisors that agency policies require agents to exercise care when handling ‘personal property items of a religious nature.’” The Border Patrol’s Tucson sector chief told advocates that agents “were being retrained,” according to the Intercept, and CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus said in a statement cited by the Post that the agency has opened an internal investigation.

In an August 17 update on this story, “the national Sikh Coalition and the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona told Arizona Luminaria they are aware of at least 12 new cases of turban confiscation this month alone” in Arizona.

“There are good agents and bad ones,” Fernando Quiroz, a Yuma-based volunteer with the AZ-CA Humanitarian Coalition, told the Border Chronicle. “Some can care less that there’s been a policy change.”

On September 19, 2022, Arizona Luminaria reported that CBP had issued new interim guidance instructing Border Patrol agents to stop confiscating Sikh asylum seekers’ turbans. “When for security reasons agents need to inspect the turban, the interim guidance requires that they subsequently return it to the Sikh person.” The agency did not make this temporary order public; it went into effect on August 6 and CBP shared it with ACLU Arizona and the Sikh Coalition on September 6.

“Whistleblowers working with a Tucson agency that aids migrants and refugees also shared accounts of Border Patrol agents verbally harassing Sikh asylum seekers and denying them their religiously required diets,” Arizona Luminaria added.

— Noah Schramm, Vanessa Pineda, Heather L. Weaver, Daniel Mach, “ACLU of Arizona Letter on Border Patrol Confiscating Sikhs’ Turbans” (Arizona: DocumentCloud, August 1, 2022) https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/22125092-aclu-of-arizona-letter-on-border-patrol-confiscating-sikhs-turbans.

— John Washington, “Border Patrol Agents Are Trashing Sikh Asylum-Seekers’ Turbans” (Arizona: Arizona Luminaria, The Intercept, August 2, 2022) https://theintercept.com/2022/08/02/sikh-turban-border-patrol/.

— Angela Cordoba Perez, “’I Understood His Pain’: Advocates Denounce Confiscating Belongings From Migrants at Border” (Phoenix: The Arizona Republic, August 5, 2022) https://www.azcentral.com/story/news/politics/immigration/2022/08/05/asylum-advocates-denounce-confiscating-belongings-from-migrants-at-border/10230819002/.

— John Washington, “Whistleblowers say Arizona Border Patrol practice of trashing Sikh turbans is widespread” (Arizona: Arizona Luminaria, August 5, 2022) https://azluminaria.org/2022/08/05/whistleblowers-say-arizona-border-patrol-practice-of-trashing-sikh-turbans-is-widespread/.

— Nick Miroff, “Border Officials Investigating Claims Sikh Turbans Were Confiscated” (Washington: The Washington Post, August 3, 2022) https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2022/08/03/border-patrol-turban-yuma/.

— John Washington, “Despite Border Patrol leader’s promise to stop, Congress members call out agents still confiscating Sikh asylum-seekers’ turbans” (Arizona: Arizona Luminaria, August 17, 2022) https://azluminaria.org/2022/08/17/congress-members-call-out-border-patrol-agents-still-confiscating-sikh-asylum-seekers-turbans/.

— Melissa del Bosque, “A New Campaign to Get the Border Patrol to Stop Trashing Asylum Seekers’ Possessions” (United States: The Border Chronicle, August 16, 2022) https://www.theborderchronicle.com/p/a-new-campaign-to-get-the-border.

— Washington, John. “Border Patrol Has New Orders Not to Trash Sikh Turbans but Isn’t Sharing Guidance Publicly, Advocates Say.” AZ Luminaria, September 19, 2022. <http://azluminaria.org/2022/09/19/border-patrol-now-instructing-agents-to-stop-taking-sikh-turbans/>.

Sector(s): Yuma

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Non-Return of Belongings, Religious Freedom Violation

Last Known Accountability Status: Shared with CBP, Shared with CRCL, Shared with DHS OIG, Shared with OPR

Victim Classification: Sikh