Tsuru for Solidarity is joining Detention Watch Network’s #FreeThemAll campaign to release immigrants in ICE detention and prevent migrant jails from becoming epicenters of COVID-19 spread.
From March 24 to 27, Tsuru for Solidarity is sharing stories of how illness and disease in the World War I camps impacted Japanese Americans, and why this history is relevant in today’s ICE jails, culminating in a National Day of Action on Friday, March 27, to drive phone calls to urge officials to close the camps and release all people so they can find safety – not sickness – in this moment.
“Sickness was a familiar way of life for many of us inside the prison camp during World War WII,” said Satsuki Ina, co-chair of Tsuru for Solidarity and Tule Lake concentration camp survivor. “Due to the overcrowding and substandard health care, we were subjected to significantly higher rates of communicable diseases that included tuberculosis, polio, and typhoid. We suffered repeated epidemics of scarlet fever and flu.”
The history of Japanese American incarceration makes clear that detention facilities are breeding grounds for the spread of disease and infection, the organization said. Outbreaks in the wartime camps included a polio epidemic at Amache in Colorado; dysentery, mumps, and valley fever at Gila River in Arizona; and measles and chicken pox at Tule Lake in California. Poorly equipped hospitals and inadequate medical staff only exacerbated these problems.
“Imprisoning individuals in such conditions was inhumane then, and it is inhumane now,” Tsuru for Solidarity said. “Despite drastic steps taken by other government agencies to contain the spread of COVID-19, ICE and many other law enforcement agencies are going on with business as usual.
“According to The Los Angeles Times, ICE agents are continuing to arrest immigrants, including a 56-year-old man who is the sole breadwinner for his family; the agents arrested him when he left his home to work and buy groceries that would have prepared his family for coronavirus lockdowns.
“And while a number of sheriffs and police departments are wisely responding to community pressure and public health guidance by ramping down enforcement of low-level offenses, many are continuing to book people into jail even for minor misconduct.”
Tsuru for Solidarity (tsuruforsolidarity.org) is a non-violent, direct-action project of Japanese American advocates working to end detention sites and support front-line immigrant and refugee communities being targeted by racist, inhumane immigration policies. We stand on the moral authority of Japanese Americans who suffered great injustices in U.S. concentration camps during WWII, and we say,”Stop Repeating History!”
For more information, go to the website or visit Tsuru for Solidarity on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.
“My father had been separated from us and sent to a Department of Justice prison camp in Bismarck, N.D.
“At that time there were over 18,000 people confined in crowded compounds consisting of military barracks. My brother, Kiyoshi, contracted chicken pox during this time and just as he recovered, I came down with it.
“Although we were supposed to be quarantined to our barracks and not permitted outside for two months, communal toilets, mess hall dining, unsanitary food handling practices, absence of running water and limited access to soap were a continued controlled aspect of our lives. Sickness was a familiar way of life for many of us inside the prison camp during WWII.
“Due to the overcrowding and substandard health care, we were subjected to significantly higher rates of communicable diseases that included tuberculosis, polio, and typhoid. We suffered repeated epidemics of scarlet fever and flu.
“‘Sheltering in Place’ inside today’s ICE and Customs and Border Patrol facilities is a tragic oxymoron. As we personally witnessed during our own incarceration, today’s detention facilities for imprisoned asylum seekers is a potential death trap for those living in mass detention, where unsanitary conditions with no regular access to running water and limits on the availability of soap make it impossible for detainees to protect themselves from the hypervirulent corona virus.
“In the name of human decency, we demand that detainees be released, that arrests be halted, that families be reunited, and those most vulnerable receive the medical care that is being made available to all people across the country.
“If ever there was a time to examine our conscience about the common good, punitive, racist policies against innocent people must end.”
— SATSUKI INA