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Faith Leaders Say Sikh Refugees and Others in Oregon Prison Are Being Denied Access to Religious Services

Gurpreet Kaur of the Sikh Center of Oregon in Beaverton says 52 of the detainees in Sheridan, Ore. are Sikhs.

Religious leaders from the Interfaith Movement for Immigrant Justice today denounced the treatment of the 123 immigrants detained in a federal prison in Sheridan, Ore., saying many of the men are religious refugees fleeing persecution in their home nations.

At least six of the men in the prison were separated from their families because of the Trump administration's zero-tolerance policy. Advocates say many of the men in the prison came to the U.S. seeking asylum from religious persecution.

Fifty-two of the detainees are from India, and Gurpreet Kaur of the Sikh Center of Oregon in Beaverton says they are Sikhs, a minority religion that started in what is now eastern Pakistan and northern India. She says the Sikh detainees came to the U.S. seeking asylum after facing religious persecution in India.

"Looking back to the teachings of Sikh gurus, we consider all humanity to be one race," Kaur says. "When we ignore the plight of a group of people by labeling them as illegal or undocumented and criminal, we are basically dehumanizing them. Families belong together."

In her speech, Kaur implored the federal prison to allow the religious leaders to have access to the detainees there in order to provide religious and cultural support.

The religious leaders will meet at the the prison in Sheridan, Ore., at 10 am Sunday, June 24 to say prayers that they hope will be heard over the walls, where the immigrants who have been detained are currently being held.

Rabbi Benjamin Barnett says he and 250 others had signed a letter addressed to the Sheridan prison and ICE officials demanding that the immigrant men have access to religious services in their native languages.

"We ask the question 'What kinds of support—human support, spiritual support—are needed for those who are enduring trauma like there are?'" he says.

Reverend Jorge Rodriguez from Las Naciones United Methodist Church in Hillsboro spoke in Spanish to the crowd through a translator. He called for the Trump administration policy that has separated 2,342 children from their families since early May to end.

"What is happening with the psychological damage that the children are suffering, that the families are suffering? How long is that damage going to keep going?" he asked.

Christopher Craun from St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal church called on people from all different faiths to join together to denounce the treatment of immigrants that imprisons and separates them.

"While the cries of the most vulnerable ring in our broken hearts, we must step out of faith as people of faith, to demonstrate that we will not continue to let an administration use Christianity to underline policies that demean and abuse them," he said.