Japanese Americans, others protest immigration detention at former WWII prison camp

LAWTON, Okla. — On June 22, Japanese Americans, Native Americans and immigrant rights advocates joined together to protest immigration detention at Fort Sill, the former site of a World War II prison camp for people of Japanese ancestry. Groups organized in response to the news that the Trump administration plans to incarcerate 1,400 migrant children there in July, described by organizers as “yet another shocking move from his anti-immigrant agenda.”

FORMER WARTIME INMATES SPEAK OUT — Former Japanese American wartime incarcerees speak out against migrant detention at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
photo by John Ota / Tsuru for Solidarity

“The use of Fort Sill, a former internment camp, for the detention of 1,400 children illustrates the deep history of exclusion and incarceration of people based on their ethnic and national identities in the U.S.,” said Silky Shah, executive director of Detention Watch Network, in a statement. “This model proves that once structures of detention and incarceration are built, they will eventually be filled when under the helm of an anti-immigrant administration.”

During World War II, the U.S. government imprisoned 700 people of Japanese ancestry at Ft. Sill, many of them permanent residents, who were ineligible to become U.S. citizens due to racially-restricted naturalization laws, organizers said.

“A father of 11 who ran to the fence in grief and confusion was shot to death in 1942,” said a statement by organizers of the protest. “Ft. Sill’s history includes boarding schools for Indigenous children and the forced incarceration of relocated members of the Apache nation.”

“This place represents pain and suffering for people of color,” said Satsuki Ina, a survivor of the World War II camps and a member of Tsuru For Solidarity. “We are here today to be the allies that we needed during WWII when we were imprisoned.”

There was a press conference held at Ft. Sill’s Bentley Gate entrance, followed by a rally at Shepler Square Park. At the rally, groups hung paper cranes on the military base and held up banners and signs that read: “Stop Repeating History.”

“The inhumane nature of immigration detention for children and adults today alarmingly mirrors the injustices that my family faced so many years ago,” said Mike Ishii of Tsuru For Solidarity. “Incarceration is not the answer: not for asylum seekers, or for anyone else. It’s a punitive system where lives are in jeopardy.”

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