Japanese Americans say ‘never again’ to plan to detain migrant children

LOS ANGELES — Japanese Americans who claim the Trump administration is repeating the history of Japanese American incarceration during World War II, will on June 22 protest the detention of young migrants who were taken into U.S. custody after crossing the border from Mexico with no legal status.

The Fort Sill army base in Lawton, Okla., which was used as a Japanese American incarceration camp during the war, was recently chosen by the administration of President Donald Trump to join more than 160 other facilities across the United States in housing migrant minors as a temporary emergency shelter for up to 1,400 children.

Government officials claim the recent surge of apprehended individuals, mostly comprised of families and unaccompanied minors from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador requesting asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border, has created “a humanitarian and border security crisis that has become a national emergency.”

“We are demanding that our administration stop criminalizing these children and instead provide community-based facilities where standards of care required by law are followed,” Dr. Satsuki Ina, who was incarcerated as a child at the Tule Lake Segregation Center in California, said June 18.

“Rather than spending millions of dollars building a wall, we must focus on expediting reunification of these families (and) speedy access to immigration judges, and we must address the deeper problems causing families living in poverty and fear to escape their home country.”

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement, which since 2003 has taken custody of so-called unaccompanied alien children who are apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border without immigration status or a legal guardian, the average stay for a detained minor is now 66 days.

“Due to the crisis on the southern border, ORR is facing a dramatic spike in referrals of UAC (unaccompanied alien children),” the U.S. health department’s Administration for Children and Families said in a statement.

“If this rate of referrals continues, ORR will care for the largest number of UAC in the program’s history in FY 2019.”

In 2014, during President Barack Obama’s administration, Fort Sill temporarily housed migrant children during a surge of migration across the U.S.-Mexico border that saw the health department in charge of more than 57,000 children that year.

Currently, more than 13,000 minors are in custody of the department until they can be released to a sponsor living in the United States as they await immigration proceedings, according to the statement.

Ina, an organizer for Tsuru for Solidarity, a grassroots organization of Japanese Americans who were incarcerated during WWII, their descendants and allies, previously helped coordinate a march to the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas, in March, where activists presented more than 10,000 origami paper cranes.

The origami cranes were folded by volunteers across the country to show solidarity with the thousands of families detained in the country’s largest family immigration detention center.

Between 1942 and 1946, 10 War Relocation Centers across the country held the majority of approximately 120,000 people of Japanese descent who were forced out of their homes under an executive order signed by U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Other temporary facilities operated by the Department of Justice and the U.S. Army such as Fort Sill housed fewer numbers, including non-Japanese.

Various organizations representing families of those who were placed in WWII incarceration camps make annual pilgrimages to sites like Heart Mountain in Wyoming and California’s Manzanar National Historic Site and Tule Lake National Monument.

Since the health department’s June 11 announcement, politicians and various organizations such as the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, the Japanese American Citizens League and committees representing families incarcerated during WWII, have denounced the decision to house children at Fort Sill.

“Fort Sill has always been a violent place — and it is time for that violence to end,” said Tom Ikeda, executive director of Densho, a nonprofit organization that preserves the history of Japanese Americans who were sent to WWII incarceration camps.

“We must be vigilant in showing up and demanding that sites like Fort Sill be shut down. No one showed up for Japanese American families like mine in 1942, but we can and we must show up for immigrant children and families today.”

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