Elizabeth, New Jersey (November 2, 2007) – An immigration detention center in Elizabeth, New Jersey reversed a ban against turbans last week.  Three detained Sikh men were barred from wearing turbans for months. The facility changed its policy three weeks after the Sikh Coalition intervened.

 

What is Happening

 

Three Sikhs are currently detained for immigration violations at the Elizabeth Detention Center (EDC) by Immigrations Customs Enforcement (ICE) of the Department of Homeland Security.  EDC is run by a private government contractor, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA).  The men were put in detention at various times within the past 15 months.  CCA disallowed them from wearing their turbans during this time. 

On October 7, 2007, a family friend of one of the Sikh detainees contacted the Sikh Coalition requesting assistance.  The Coalition then contacted the family of the detained man, and subsequently was able to communicate with all three Sikh detainees.  All three asked the Coalition for help to persuade the detention cention to allow them to wear their turbans.

The Sikh Coalition spoke to the Chief of Security at EDC on October 12, 2007. The Coalition explained that their refusal to allow Sikh detainees to wear turbans violated: 1) ICE’s Detention Standards regarding Religious Practices, and 2) the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. 

The Coalition also raised the issue in a memorandum to ICE officials on October 17, 2007 in preparation for an interagency meeting in Washington, DC hosted by the Department of Justice.  The next day, the Legal Aid Society of New York and the Coalition also sent a joint letter to the detention center’s Warden, explaining that CCA was violating the law. 

On October 22, 2007, the Warden contacted the Legal Aid Society and indicated that the center would allow the men to wear their religious headwear subject to safety and security considerations.   The Coalition and Legal Aid Society attorneys discussed the Wardens’ concerns with the detainees. 

Last week a family member of one of the detainees brought small turbans to the detention center for the detained Sikhs.  Detention center officials inspected them and then gave them to the Sikh detainees on October 31, 2007.

 

Going Forward

The Coalition and the Legal Aid Society will continue to work with the detention center to ensure that the Sikh detainees can fully exercise their religious rights at the facility.

 

The Sikh Coalition would like to thank the Legal Aid Society of New York for its excellent support in this matter. The Coalition is also thankful to the Corrections Corporation of America for its prompt attention to our concerns.

The Coalition calls on all Sikhs to stand up for their civil rights and fearlessly maintain their articles of faith.