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

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Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said Wednesday it is investigating claims that Border Patrol agents removed and rejected turbans belonging to Sikh migrants at the southern border, following a complaint from 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 who took religious hats with them and never returned.

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

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

CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus said the agency was accepting the complaints "very seriously"

CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus said the agency was taking the allegations “very seriously.”
(Rod Lamkey/Pool via REUTERS/File Image)

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

“This issue was raised in June and immediate steps were taken to address the situation,” he said. “It is our expectation 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 describe how officers “must remain aware of an individual’s religious beliefs while conducting an enforcement action in a dignified and respectful manner” and that “[a]All personal property of detainees discovered during arrest or prosecution and not considered to be contraband shall be safeguarded.”

A U.S. Border Patrol agent talks with immigrants before transporting some of them to a processing center on December 9, 2021 in Yuma, Arizona.

A U.S. Border Patrol agent talks with immigrants before transporting some of them to a processing center on December 9, 2021 in Yuma, Arizona.
(Getty Images)

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

Border Patrol agents have been dealing with a massive influx of migrants from dozens of different countries. A recent post by Yuma Sector Chief Patrol Officer said officers had encountered more than 5,600 migrants from 46 different countries in the space of a week.

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

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