LAT plays hide and Sikh

I've definitely read my share of interesting stories related to immigration and the U.S.-Mexico border. This one, about a Muslim cleric who had been deported from Canada getting caught while unsuccessfully being smuggled back into the United States, comes to mind. But I don't want to sell short a story from the Los Angeles Times about a surge of illegal immigrants coming from ... India. Right away, readers are told that this is both a religious story and a political one:

The immigrants, mostly young men from poor villages, say they are fleeing religious and political persecution. More than 1,600 Indians have been caught since the influx began here early last year, while an undetermined number, perhaps thousands, are believed to have sneaked through undetected, according to U.S. border authorities. ...

There is no evidence that terrorists are using the smuggling pipeline, FBI and Department of Homeland Security officials said.

The story goes on, though, to explain that there is no evidence to the men's claims of fleeing religious persecution. Instead, many authorities suspect the immigrants are chasing economic opportunities:

Most of the immigrants say they are from the Punjab or Gujarat states. They are largely Sikhs who say they face religious persecution, or members of the Bharatiya Janata Party who say they are targeted for beatings by members of the National Congress Party.

But analysts and human rights monitors say political conditions in India don't explain the migration. There is no evidence of the kind of persecution that would prompt a mass exodus, they say, and Sikhs haven't been targets since the 1980s. The prime minister of India, Manmohan Singh, is a Sikh.

This is all good and helpful information. But, unfortunately, this is basically the end of detailing the religious identity of these Indian immigrants (other than mentioning that in Rio Grande Valley some Sikhs had been "confronted by locals alarmed by the sight of people wearing turbans"). The rest of the article focuses on basically two things: calling into question their claims of fleeing persecution and discussing the burden this is on the immigration system.

I have some qualms with this approach in general -- the story feels like it went for multiple voices saying the same thing instead of going for depth -- but, more importantly, how about telling us a little something about Sikhs?

I've been reporting on religion for six or so years now, and I've never had occasion to write about Sikhs, have never met one and still know very little about them. I do know that they are a religious minority in India, even more so than Muslims and Christians but not as minor, I suspect, as Jains. But what do they believe and, if these immigrants were being honest, why might they be persecuted?

IMAGE: Via Wikimedia Commons of a Sikh wearing the religiously prescribed turban. For what purpose the paper does not explain.

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