UPDATE: In August of 2022, reports emerged of Border Patrol officers illegally seizing and trashing the dastaars of and otherwise mistreating Sikh asylum-seekers. In the months since, the Sikh Coalition is in touch with the White House, the Department of Homeland Security, and members of Congress on this issue along with partners at the ACLU, other Sikh organizations, and elsewhere; click here to read the latest updates. We remain committed to stopping this abhorrent behavior and ensuring the necessary permanent policy changes to prevent similar abuses in the future.
The Sikh Coalition recognizes that immigration is a long-standing and complex issue. Even though we do not provide direct legal services on asylum or immigration cases and immigration policy is not a primary focus area of our work, we are here to make sure impacted community members’ civil rights are protected.
In the last decade, the United States has seen an influx of immigration and asylum-seekers from India, including from Punjab specifically. During this time, while each Administration has prioritized responding to the U.S. border crisis, conditions for detainees have collectively worsened. In turn, we have been compelled to conduct work in this space and do more to respond to the civil rights infractions and human rights abuses that Sikhs are facing in U.S. detention facilities.
Major concerns and violations of rights that we have seen or heard about in detention centers include: inconsistent or no access to detention facility rules in a language detainees can understand; inadequate or no access to interpreters; denial of religious accommodations including turban material, the opportunity to engage in group prayer, and clean environments to conduct daily prayer; difficulty obtaining food that complies with the detainees’ religious-based diets; and a pattern of bond denial or excessively high bonds for Punjabi detainees compared to other ethnic groups.
“Access to due process, religious accommodations, medical care, and language assistance is not an immigration issue; it’s a basic human rights issue. Our government has a responsibility to make sure that every person being detained is treated fairly under the law, and we have an organizational responsibility to hold our government accountable.”
Cindy Nesbit, Sikh Coalition Senior Staff Attorney
In 2019, the Sikh Coalition joined other civil rights organizations, immigration attorneys, and activists for a day of action in support of Sikh and Cuban detainees who were protesting the conditions at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) El Paso Processing Center, ICE’s refusal to provide parole to asylum seekers, and immigration courts’ denial of bond for asylum seekers.
We also filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General and ICE raising ongoing concerns regarding violations of civil rights for Sikhs at ICE detention facilities across the United States. This was followed by a congressional briefing at Capitol Hill alongside South Asian Americans Leading Together and other civil rights organizations to brief legislators about these concerns while demanding further transparency and oversight into the treatment of Sikh detainees. This action was followed with testimony at various city and state committees, including the New York City Council Committee on Immigration’s hearing. Later in 2019, the Sikh Coalition led out on a letter signed by 36 civil rights organizations and delivered to more than 60 congressional offices, which focused on our ongoing concerns about the mistreatment and deprivation of due process rights of migrants and asylum seekers being held in ICE custody.
In 2020, the Sikh Coalition identified a number of inaccuracies in the Punjabi version of the National Detainee Handbook (NDH). After submitting an administrative complaint to DHS detailing a number of concerns, including language access problems, we were able to work with the agency to revise the Punjabi version of the NDH so that Punjabi speakers can understand their rights and obligations in ICE detention facilities.
In 2021, working with with our counsel at the Stanford Law School’s Religious Liberty Clinic and Harvard Law School’s Religious Freedom Clinic along with the support of community experts, the Sikh Coalition released Well-Founded Fear: Understanding Legal Challenges and Best Practices for Sikh Asylum Applicants and Their Attorneys. This report provides practical guidance to individuals navigating the asylum process as well as context into the plight Sikh asylum seekers face in India, both for those in the legal profession and individuals who are representing themselves.
- % between 2007 and 2018
- detained persons
- congressional offices contacted for oversight
As we continue to monitor detention-related issues, we will also keep working with local sangats to identify Sikhs who are being detained to ascertain the needs and resources, including connecting detainees with interpreters and lawyers well-versed in handling the intricacies associated with these delicate cases. We also continue to provide religious materials, including turbans, gutka, and karas for detention center Chaplains to distribute to use in assisting Sikh detainees practicing their faith while detained. The Sikh Coalition will continue to support larger coalition efforts to protect the basic rights of Sikhs and other communities inside the immigration detention system.
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