November 2, 2023 (Washington, DC) — More than a year after the first reports of Sikh migrants’ dastaars being seized and discarded at our nation’s southern border, the Sikh Coalition continues our work to ensure the dignified treatment of these and other vulnerable people.
Earlier this year, the Sikh Coalition provided an update on our efforts to engage U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) around their treatment of Sikh migrants—including by submitting new draft policy recommendations that would detail the necessary steps required to protect the religious rights of Sikhs and other religious minorities during searches at the border. Recently, we received CBP’s finalized training materials on how its officers and agents can improve their understanding of the Sikh faith and guidance for the accommodation needs of Sikhs. After a review of the materials, we identified a number of important omissions following our prior detailed recommendations provided to CBP.
Among our key recommendations are to bring the guidance in line with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, to push back against the notion of CBP officers and agents ‘patting down’ Sikhs’ dastaars, and to clarify what constitutes an “acceptable” health or safety risk that would permit CBP officers and agents to deny a Sikh migrant their rights. We also have concerns about privacy protections for migrants, contextually appropriate information on the Sikh faith, and other matters. While we remain encouraged that CBP is developing this guidance, its significant shortcomings mean that there is still more work to be done in order to ensure that the mistreatment of Sikhs and other religious migrants does not persist.
As is always the case when we engage federal agencies (like CBP, the Transportation Security Administration, or others), the Sikh Coalition’s efforts to continue providing feedback and suggested improvements to these policies are not an endorsement of any agency’s current policies or conduct. We continue to stay in close communication with our partners at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona (ACLU-AZ) and other organizations to lead a multi-pronged advocacy effort to hold CBP and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) accountable.
We remain grateful to our allies at the ACLU and the ACLU-AZ for their stewardship and legal expertise in this area of the law, as well as other partner organizations like HIAS, Hindus for Human Rights, Muslim Advocates, and Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, who have worked with us to provide feedback and recommendations to CBP and DHS over the past year. As ever, reporting violations along the border remains critical: If you know of someone who has experienced discrimination or had their religious rights violated in the course of interactions with CBP agents, please reach out to our team online or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
As always, the Sikh Coalition urges you to practice your faith fearlessly.