JAs to Protest Against Child Imprisonment at Fort Sill

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Illustration by Nancy Ukai

WASHINGTON — In response to the news that the Trump Administration will be using Fort Sill, a U.S. Army base once used as an internment camp for Japanese Americans during World War II, to detain up to 1,400 immigrant children, Tsuru for Solidarity, Detention Watch Network, Densho and ACLU Oklahoma announced a peaceful protest event.

On Saturday, June 22, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Ft. Sill in Lawton, Okla., Japanese Americans and allies from across the country will gather for a vigil to protest the confinement of as many as 1,400 unaccompanied minors from Central America that will begin in July.

Fort Sill was founded in 1869 and was used as an internment camp during World War II for 700 Japanese Americans and immigrants from Japan who were imprisoned as “enemy aliens” without due process.

Dr. Satsuki Ina, co-chair of Tsuru for Solidarity, said, “Seventy-five years ago, I was born in an American concentration camp. 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry were incarcerated without due process of law, two-thirds were American citizens and more than one-third were children. Sixty years later it was determined that this denial of our human and constitutional rights was driven by economic and political gain.

“Without substance of fact, we were deemed a danger to national security, a threat to America’s economic future, and an unassimilable race of people with questionable loyalty. We suffered forced imprisonment, family separation and indeterminate detention. And as we disappeared from our homes, America turned their backs on us. There was no protest, no outrage, no demonstrations, or protest.

“Japanese Americans used to say ‘Never Again!’ but today we realize that ‘Never Again is NOW!’ As a community fractured and disinherited from the fruits of our labor, we know what it means to be denied our human rights. We know what it means to be victims of racism and the failure of political leadership. Today, we are standing together with children and families being incarcerated and criminalized for seeking asylum.

“We are demanding that this administration ‘Stop Repeating History!’”

Silky Shah, executive director of Detention Watch Network, said, “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. 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.

“This development is in line with the Trump Administration’s proliferation of immigration detention into the military as a ‘lock them up’ at any cost strategy evading oversight and measures of accountability. Detention of children and adults alike is not the answer. Rather than building up the infrastructure of a system that is riddled with abuse where lives are in jeopardy, Members of Congress should be calling for the closure of detention centers across the country and advocating for people to be released.”

Tom Ikeda, executive director of Densho, said, “Fort Sill is a site steeped in layers upon layers of historical trauma. Over 700 Japanese Americans were detained there during WWII, and one man, a Japanese immigrant and father of 11, was shot and killed while suffering a nervous breakdown and trying to escape.

“Before that, Fort Sill was a prisoner of war camp for members of the Chiricahua Apache tribe who were forcibly relocated there from the Southwest. It also housed a boarding school where Native American children were separated from their families and subjected to cultural genocide. Fort Sill has always been a violent place — and it is time for that violence to end.

“‘Never Again’ is right now. It’s happening all around us, every day. 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.”

Tsuru for Solidarity is a project of the Japanese American Action Network, a national coalition of community social justice advocates. Tsuru means “crane” in Japanese. The project was started by survivors and descendants of WWII U.S. concentration camps who speak out against immigrant detention and the separation of families. They bring origami cranes, hand-folded by the Japanese American community, as symbols of transformation, healing and social justice. For more information, email [email protected]

Detention Watch Network is a national coalition of organizations and individuals working to expose and challenge the injustices of the U.S. immigration detention and deportation system and advocate for profound change that promotes the rights and dignity of all persons. Founded in 1997 by immigrant rights groups, DWN brings together advocates to unify strategy and build partnerships on a local and national level to end immigration detention. Visit www.detentionwatchnetwork.org.

Densho is a grassroots community organization dedicated to preserving and sharing the story of World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans to deepen understanding of American history and inspire action for equity. Densho documents the testimonies of Japanese Americans who were unjustly incarcerated during World War II before their memories are extinguished. They offer these irreplaceable first-hand accounts, coupled with historical images and teacher resources, to explore principles of democracy, and promote equal justice for all. Visit www.densho.org.

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