After the Trump administration announced last week that it will be detaining undocumented immigrant children apprehended at the border at a former World War II-era Japanese American incarceration camp, Japanese American groups are speaking out.
Several organizations have slammed the administration’s move to place migrant children at Fort Sill in Oklahoma, where an estimated 700 Japanese Americans were held following the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
“The prolonged detention of migrant children is a practice that must be a critical concern for all Americans,” Mitchell Maki, president and CEO of Japanese American history nonprofit Go For Broke National Education Center, told HuffPost. “If we are to be the beacon of hope and a model of humanity for the rest of the world, we must do a much better job of quickly placing these children in socially appropriate, humane surroundings.”
The facility will serve as a “temporary emergency influx shelter” to accommodate the “dramatic spike” in unaccompanied minors detained by border officials this year, according to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement. Tom Ikeda, executive director of Densho, an organization that preserves Japanese-American history, reminded HuffPost that the facility has a dark history.
Prior to its use as a Japanese American incarceration site, Fort Sill served as a prison camp for members of the Chiricahua Apache tribe, who were forcibly removed and exiled from their lands in the Southwest in the late 1800s.
“Fort Sill is the site of multiple historical traumas, and this latest plan to incarcerate migrant children at this site is part of a much larger system of white supremacist violence,” Ikeda said.
During WWII, Fort Sill was also the scene of particularly acute historical pain, the Densho director noted. One of the Japanese American prisoners, Kanesaburo Oshima, was dealing with a mental breakdown. When he attempted to escape the camp, Oshima was shot and killed by armed guards.
“This tragedy should not have happened because Mr. Oshima and the other 700 internees should not have been locked up at Fort Sill,” Ikeda explained. “Migrant children and their families should not be criminalized for seeking asylum, and they should absolutely not be locked up at Fort Sill or anywhere. It’s imperative that we speak out and show up to prevent other tragedies from happening at this site of shame.”
The Obama administration had used Fort Sill to detain an estimated 1,800 undocumented children in 2014 during an uptick in border crossings.
“It was wrong then and is wrong now,” the Japanese American Citizens League wrote in a statement.
The league’s president, Jeffrey Moy, noted that many of those who survived the camps and are still alive today were children when they were incarcerated. Utilizing the facility “for the purpose of incarcerating children serves only to reopen these deep emotional scars while simultaneously creating new ones in an already vulnerable population,” he said in a statement.
The administration announced that it will begin using the site as early as July. To protest the move, a group of Japanese Americans and civil rights groups, including Densho and ACLU Oklahoma, will be gathering for a peaceful vigil at the military base on Saturday.