UNITED SIKHS Delivers Turbans and Prayer Books to Sikh Detainees
at Port Isabel Detention Center in Southern Texas
Los Fresnos, Texas, USA
– Gurvinder Singh, a UNITED SIKHS board member, along with his
volunteer team comprised of Kulwinder Singh, Mandeep Singh, Narinderpal
Singh, and Rupinderjit Singh, visited The Port Isabel Service
Processing Center on March 12, 2011 to deliver religious items to Sikh
detainees who had recently been arriving there in large numbers. The
detention center holds detainees of the U.S. Immigration and Customs
Enforcement (ICE). These detainees have undetermined immigration or
citizenship statuses, or are awaiting repatriation. Many of the Sikh
detainees were in need of turbans and prayer books, having lost them
over the course of their difficult journey from India over the Mexican
border to the United States. During UNITED SIKHS’ visit, over seventy
Sikh inmates at the center received eighty turbans, over forty prayer
books and Sikh literature. According to the faith, Sikhs are required
to wear the dastaar (Sikh turban) at all times to cover their kesh
(unshorn hair) as an article of faith, and are mandated to pray daily.
- UNITED SIKHS
responded to news from government officials that there was a need for
religious articles for Sikh detainees at the Texas border.
- Sevadar team
traveled (18 hours round trip) to visit detainees and deliver religious
items (80 turbans and 40 prayer books) along with various Sikh
literature donated by UNITED SIKHS.
- As part of our
ongoing work to protect the religious rights of Sikh prisoners, we
thank this team for helping preserve the religious rights of
those in detention centers.
- Please Be Involved, Click here to get started!; To receive forthcoming bulletins join our UNITED SIKHS Yahoo group; To donate go to www.unitedsikhs.org/donate.
The Sewadar Team
Prior to the year 2000, the field of prisoner rights was controlled by
the Department of Corrections, and prisoners’ religious rights were
extensively violated. The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized
Person Act (RLUIPA), passed in 2000, provides added protections against
state and local governments from imposing burdens on the free exercise
of religion in prisons. RLUIPA has created some change, but only five
states permit unshorn hair outright and less than a quarter of the
fifty states allow for a faith/religious exception for RLUIPA (at least
in the context of Sikh rights). Texas is not one of these states.
However, the Port Isabel Detention Center was grateful for UNITED
SIKHS’ visit and the donation of the turbans, prayer books and Sikh
literature. (For more information on RLUIPA, click here).
“We are thankful for the coming of UNITED SIKHS to Port Isabel
Detention Center and for your donation of religious items you brought
for the detainees. The detainees will be spiritually fulfilled with
your contribution and consideration,” said Rev. Eliane Menezes, the
Religious Service Program Coordinator at the Port Isabel Detention
Port Isabel Detention Center provides a chapel service for its
detainees, but it didn’t have the resources to provide religious
services or articles of faith for the Sikh detainees. According to ICE,
there has been an increase in the number of undocumented South Asians
finding their way into ICE custody along the Texas border. UNITED SIKHS
was contacted by Church World Service, a chaplaincy provider for
detention centers, regarding the fact that many Sikhs in Port Isabel
were without turbans, and asked UNITED SIKHS to help on behalf of the
Sikh detainees. The UNITED SIKHS legal team coordinated the trip, and
enlisted the Texas chapter's assistance. Gurvinder Singh and his team
of UNITED SIKHS volunteers knew it was necessary that these Sikh
detainees have the same right to practice their religion as the other
detainees, so they offered to drive over nine hours each way to deliver
the turbans, prayer books and literature to the center.
The Sevadar Team loading up supplies
"Knowing that we had a plea from our brothers to assist them so that
they may maintain the dignity of their faith while in detention struck
us quite deeply, " said Gurvinder Singh, UNITED SIKHS board member and
coordinator of this delivery. When asked about the length of the drive
(9 hours each way), he responded, "UNITED SIKHS will continue to strive
to ensure that the religious rights of all are respected even if we
have to drive half way across the country." UNITED SIKHS will continue
to be in touch with the chaplaincy staff of Port Isabel to ensure that
Sikh detainees are able to practice their faith freely and have access
to the Sikh articles of faith and literature.
Reverend Joan Maruskin, Program Administrator for the Religious Service
Program at Church World Service wrote in her thank you letter to UNITED
"The UNITED SIKHS
visit to the Port Isabel Detention Center was a blessing to both the
detainees and staff members of the detention center. Your visit
let the detainees know that they are valued and respected and not
alone, thank you so very much. Additional thanks for providing
religious items to help them practice their religion. Wearing and
using the items not only provides them with a connection to the divine,
but also reminds them of their connection to the greater Sikh
community. Knowing that others care brings added dignity and
value to their lives in detention and beyond. Again, thank you
for visiting the Sikh detainees in Port Isabel. They continue to
use the materials you provided and will long remember and talk about
UNITED SIKHS is committed to this cause, and will continue to raise
awareness about the religious rights of prisoners -especially those of
minority faiths like Sikhs -through education, awareness, and advocacy
projects. This trip was part of UNITED SIKHS' ongoing prisoners rights
project within which we have been able to advocate for the religious
freedom rights of Sikh prisoners nationwide, and are working to effect
policy changes to state grooming standards that prohibit unshorn hair.
To access past Press Releases on the Prisoner Rights issues, click the links below:
What can YOU do?
- Would you like to volunteer and work on our prisoner's rights project? Contact email@example.com
- Have you or someone you know been deprived of
the right to practice their faith freely while in detention or in
prison? If so, e-mail the UNITED SIKHS legal team at
- Participate in education and awareness efforts
about Sikhs and Sikhism. For ideas, tools, and more information on how
to get involved, contact us at the e-mail address above and fill out
our volunteer form by clicking here.
- Write your representatives and tell them that
you support religious freedom protections for prisoners and detainees
at both the state and local level. Tell them that RLUIPA is important!
To find out who your representative is and how to get a message to
them, click here.
Support advocacy work to protect the religious rights of those in
prisons and detention centers across the country. Sikhs and other
minority communities too often face religious discrimination while
behind bars, and are prevented from practicing their faith freely.
Volunteer with UNITED SIKHS, and Donate to our civil rights advocacy projects.
can help those affected by countless crises around the world each year
by making a financial gift to the UNITED SIKHS, which will provide
immediate relief and support to those in need. You may donate online at
or send your donations to a UNITED SIKHS office nearest to
you, whose details can be found at http://unitedsikhs.org/contact.php
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donation is spent on admin costs.
To transform underprivileged and minority
communities and individuals into informed and vibrant members of
society through civic, educational and personal development programs,
by fostering active participation in social and economic activity.
UNITED SIKHS is also an avenue for networking
between like-minded organisations to establish and nurture meaningful
projects and dialogues - whether social, cultural or political- to
promote harmony, understanding and reciprocity in our villages, towns
UNITED SIKHS is a coalition of organisations
and individuals, who share a common vision based on the belief that
there is no greater endeavour than to serve, empower and uplift fellow
beings. The core of our philosophy is an unwavering commitment to civic
service and social progress on behalf of the common good.
Accordingly, UNITED SIKHS has sought to fulfil
its mission not only by informing, educating and uplifting fellow
beings but also by participating in cross-cultural and political
exchanges to ensure that the promises and benefits of democracy are
realized by all.
We at UNITED SIKHS believe that the
development of enlightened and progressive societies can be made
possible by socially conscious groups of people who make a commitment
to develop and direct human potential. Our work, efforts and
achievements stand as a testament to our faith in this vision.