ROCKVILLE, Md. — Tsuru For Solidarity, 18 Million Rising, and Sanctuary DMV on Monday attempted to deliver a joint petition with nearly 8,000 signatures, along with 200 paper origami cranes (tsuru) in remembrance of those who have died in ICE custody, to Jennifer Nakamoto, the CEO of the Nakamoto Group, to demand an end to the group’s inspection contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
When asked if they would accept the petition and tsuru, two representatives of the Nakamoto Group refused and threatened to call the police on members of the Japanese American community and immigrants’ rights activists.
“Jennifer Nakamoto was quick to invoke her Japanese American heritage when she faced criticism of her company’s actions by members of Congress earlier this year,” said Linda Morris of Tsuru for Solidarity. “But when nearly 8,000 Japanese Americans and allies expressed our opinions to her in writing, the Nakamoto Group refused to hear us, rejected our petition and tsuru, and even threatened to call the police.”
The Nakamoto Group conducts nationwide inspections of ICE’s immigrant detention facilities, which critics say are designed to obscure abuses and perpetuate a culture of secrecy within the over 200 immigration detention facilities ICE operates.
“The immigration detention inspection process is a complete sham,” said Carl Takei of Tsuru for Solidarity. “The Nakamoto Group has a well documented history of sweeping violations and abuses under the rug to facilitate passing ratings for ICE and keep their revenue stream intact at the expense of immigrant lives.”
A 2016 report, “Fatal Neglect: How ICE Ignores Deaths in Detention,” examined multiple cases of in-custody deaths where ICE’s own death reviews concluded that substandard medical care was a contributing factor in multiple deaths in detention.
According to the report, the Nakamoto Group’s routine inspections for ICE both before and after these deaths failed to acknowledge or even dismissed the violations of ICE medical standards that had been identified in ICE’s own death reviews.
According to a 2018 report from the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General (OIG), Nakamoto inspectors conducted interviews with people in detention only in English, and actually selected whom to interview by asking who could speak English — a serious problem given that the people most vulnerable to abuse are those who can’t speak English.
OIG also noted that in some cases, “the information in the [Nakamoto] reports was inconsistent with what we observed during inspections.”
A subsequent review of Nakamoto Group inspections by The Los Angeles Times found similar patterns of cursory inspections that dismissed complaints by people in detention.
“The Nakamoto Group perpetuates abuse in immigration detention,” said Takei. “Especially because Jennifer Nakamoto uses her own family’s experience of World War II incarceration to deflect criticism of her company, the Japanese American community has a responsibility to hold her accountable for profiting off of immigrant pain.”
After the Nakamoto Group refused the petition delivery, members of the Japanese American community joined immigrants’ rights advocates outside the group’s office to share remarks that underscore the connections and collective suffering of Japanese American incarceration survivors to people locked up in today’s immigration detention system.
This contrasts with Jennifer Nakamoto, who has repeatedly touted her status as “a hard-working minority woman” whose family was “forced into internment camps” and whose mother “was born in a Japanese internment camp” when facing public scrutiny, the activists said.
The activists also held during a moment of silence while holding the 200 tsuru to honor those who have died in ICE custody.
“ICE’s budget continues to grow and yet, people are still dying in immigration detention,” said Takei. “That should tell you that the problem isn’t the need for better conditions or bigger budgets; the problem is the agency itself and the detention system it operates.
“We stand in solidarity with people in detention calling for their release and demanding the Nakamoto Group end its contract with ICE. Ms. Nakamoto can no longer turn her back on the connection of the pain and suffering of her own family’s history to today’s immigration detention system.”