Written by Don Byrd

A letter sent to government officials at the Department of Homeland Security, ICE, and the Custom Border Patrol by a leading civil rights organization calls for an investigation into the allegations made by immigrant detainees of widespread religious liberty violations. Such abuses, the ACLU writes, “are particularly troubling because many immigrants who seek refuge in the United States have faced persecution in their home countries based on their religious beliefs.”

The letter details several specific incidents and trends.

In June 2018, for example, ICE transferred hundreds of immigrants to the Federal Correctional Institution in Victorville, California. While detained there, immigrants were not allowed to attend worship services or participate in group prayer or religious study. They also had no access to religious leaders or spiritual counseling. And their ability to obtain and wear religious head coverings and garb was severely restricted. Many went hungry for weeks because they were not provided with meals that met their religious needs. One individual was even admonished and threatened with punishment for singing hymns to himself while inside his own cell.

These kinds of allegations, if true, are a reprehensible and unnecessary denial of basic expressions of religious identity. What’s worse is the apparently callous response given to many detainees requesting religious accommodation. Detainees report having their religious items confiscated and thrown in the trash; religious head coverings forcibly removed; and denial of religious texts even while staff was telling detainees to turn to their religion as a means of coping.

Such practices, the ACLU contends, violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized persons Act (RLUIPA) by routinely imposing “substantial burdens on detained immigrants’ ability to engage in some of the most basic and fundamental religious practices.”