Sikh Coalition’s Complaint Leads To Further Action Against ICE

This week, the Sikh Coalition filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Inspector General and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in response to ongoing concerns regarding violations of civil rights for Sikhs at ICE detention facilities across the United States.

The complaint demands included increased Punjabi language access for Sikh detainees in compliance with ICE’s own Language Access Plan, an investigation into systematic policies of prolonged detention, better access to critical medical care, and full and consistent religious accommodations for Sikhs at detention facilities under federal law.

“Access to due process, religious accommodations, medical care, and language assistance is not an immigration issue; it’s a basic human rights issue,” said Sikh Coalition Senior Staff Attorney Cindy Nesbit. “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.”

The Sikh Coalition also joined South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), several other civil rights organizations and members of Congress to brief legislators about these concerns while demanding further transparency and oversight into the treatment of Sikh detainees. Click here to watch the April 2nd briefing.

Since January 2019, when news broke that several Sikh detainees were on hunger strike protesting their detention, the Sikh Coalition has been engaged in advocacy to raise concerns about the safety, civil rights and religious rights of Sikh detainees. On February 12th, the Sikh Coalition sent a demand letter to the DHS, U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and key congressional and senate offices insisting on further investigation and oversight.

On February 15th, the Sikh Coalition joined other civil rights organizations, immigration attorneys and activists for a day of action in El Paso, Texas. This involved Sikh Coalition Legal Director Amrith Kaur and Community Development Manager Inderpreet Kaur meeting with 42 Sikh detainees – including those who had been force-fed after hunger striking in protest of these violations – inside the El Paso and Otero detention facilities. To read more about our organizational response to the Sikh hunger strike, click here.

The Sikh Coalition has previously provided support to detainees whose civil rights are being violated because they are not permitted to freely practice their religious beliefs while detained. Last year, this support included providing background expertise on Sikh religious observance as part of a court filing for the Oregon Federal Defender’s Office, which represented a number of Sikh detainees at the Sheridan Detention Center. This court filing, in part, led to the detention facility changing their policy and allowing Sikhs to maintain their dastaars.

Additionally, the Sikh Coalition continues working with organizations and sangats to gather actionable data on Sikhs who are detained so that we can better identify needs and resources. This support includes providing dastaars, gutkas, parsad and a clean prayer space at detention facilities, and also connecting detainees to Punjabi translators and lawyers while providing oversight on humanitarian conditions within the detention facilities.

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 it has not been a primary focus area, we are here to make sure impacted community members’ civil rights are protected.

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