Representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union criticized what they said was illegal and a “serious violation of religious freedom” and demanded that US Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Chris Magnus investigate.
“We are talking about Sikh migrants, especially those who are fleeing their country because of religious persecution … making a very traumatic journey to the United States, and upon entry, they are forced to remove a sacred part of their religion, a core tenet of Vanessa Pineda, immigrant rights staff attorney for the ACLU of Arizona.
Pineda said partner organizations that are working directly with migrants have reported an increase in the turbines of Sikh asylum seekers. She told CNN.
CBP says it has 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 issued to CNN. “This issue was raised in June and immediate steps were taken to resolve the situation. Our expectation is that CBP officers treat all migrants we receive with respect. encountered. An internal investigation has been opened to resolve the matter.”
The agency said it has provided additional guidance to field leaders “reiterating the expectation that staff exercise care when handling properties of a religious nature.” It also said the agency’s procedures allow its employees to remove items “that pose a clear health or safety hazard.”
In their letter, the ACLU representative said they saw little evidence of concrete action after the issue was raised at meetings in June and July.
“We continue to see it happen. … All the local efforts that our partner organizations have made, nothing has changed. And in fact, there has been an increase in the past few months,” Pineda said.
It is possible that the actual number of people affected is higher, Pineda said, noting that human rights groups are only aware of self-reported incidents.
Migrants from many countries are showing up at the border
For years, the majority of migrants trying to cross the border came from Mexico or Central America.
CNN’s Manveena Suri, Huizhong Wu and Harmeet Kaur contributed to this report.