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CBP investigating claims Sikh turbans ‘improperly’ removed by Border Patrol at southern border

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said Wednesday that it is investigating claims that turbans belonging to Sikh migrants were removed and discarded by Border Patrol agents at the southern border — after a complaint by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The ACLU’s Arizona branch wrote to CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus this week alleging at least 50 cases of migrants arriving in the Yuma Sector in which religious headwear was taken and never returned.

“These practices blatantly violate federal law,” the letter, reported by The Intercept, said.

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“We ask that you promptly investigate these civil-rights violations and direct agents in the Yuma Border Patrol Sector to immediately cease these unlawful practices,” the letter said. “Furthermore, we respectfully request a meeting in the meantime to discuss your plan to remedy the situation.”

In a statement, Magnus said the agency “take[s] allegations of this nature very seriously.”

“This issue was raised in June and steps were immediately taken to address the situation,” he said. “Our expectation is that CBP employees treat all migrants we encounter with respect. An internal investigation has been opened to address this matter.”

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CBP’s standards outline how agents “should remain cognizant of an individual’s religious beliefs while accomplishing an enforcement action in a dignified and respectful manner” and that “[a]ll detainees’ personal property discovered during apprehension or processing and not deemed to be contraband will be safeguarded.”

A U.S. Border Patrol agent speaks with immigrants before transporting some of them to a processing center on December 09, 2021 in Yuma, Arizona. 

The ACLU, in its letter, confirmed that the matter had been raised with officials in June, as Magnus’s statement also indicated, but that CBP officials said that items were only taken when there was deemed to be a security risk — and that agents only refused to store them if they were wet or damaged. The ACLU disputed this claim. 

Border Patrol agents have been dealing with a massive influx of migrants from dozens of different countries. A recent post by Yuma sector’s chief patrol agent said that agents had encountered more than 5,600 migrants from 46 different countries in the space of a week.

CBP is currently concluding another investigation into allegations that Border Patrol agents had whipped migrants in Del Rio Sector last year. The investigation found that there was “no evidence” for the claim, which was repeated by President Biden, but it did fault agents for behavior including using “offensive” language toward migrants.

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