JACL Denounces Continued Detainment of Children

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WASHINGTON — The Japanese American Citizens League issued the following statement on Aug. 6.

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Recognizing parents were confronted with a “Sophie’s Choice” of giving up custody of their children so they could be released or consenting to their continued imprisonment to keep their family together, Judge Dolly Gee ruled her previous order to release all the children unenforceable. This will enable the continued detention of nearly 300 immigrant children and their families by ICE for the foreseeable future in clear violation of the law according to the Flores Settlement.

In total, there are three family detention facilities in the U.S. Two of these facilities are in Texas, Dilley and Karnes City, and the third is in Berks County, Pennsylvania. Judge Gee’s previous ruling, that ordered the release of children in ICE custody in accordance with the Flores Settlement, described these family detention centers as “on fire.”

In spite of this, Judge James Boasberg, in a separate case seeking broad release of all detainees due to the COVID pandemic, ruled that ICE did not have to release the parents with their children, even with his critique that the agency “continues to fall short of full compliance with its policies in practice.” First-hand reports at ICE detention centers continue to reinforce the dire situation in this pandemic.

With the global pandemic, it is irresponsible and immoral to unnecessarily keep any person in custody, particularly children and their families. Even prior to COVID-19, reports had widely shown that ICE was not giving detainees proper access to medical care and other basic necessities. In another recent ruling, the Supreme Court established that prisoners have no right to any accommodations to protect them from COVID.

When Japanese Americans were incarcerated during World War II, there were several times where fears of a possible outbreak of different diseases arose. With insufficient health care provided by the U.S. government, even simple medical procedures were dangerous, let alone the ability to deal with a potential viral pandemic.

The psychological trauma was intensified for families who were separated during their time in incarceration. Many families saw their husbands and fathers taken away by the government to prison camps, leaving mothers and children to fend for themselves. In several instances, these families were never reunited after the war ended.

Just as the courts failed to protect the rights of Japanese Americans during WWII, they now fail to protect the rights of those seeking a better life in our country through the asylum process or as refugees. There is no excusing or condoning the continued incarceration of children and their families.

The damage being done to asylum seekers and refugees in ICE custody is incalculable. The government has demonstrated time and time again that it sees immigrant families, and more distressingly, immigrant children, as false threats to national security just as it falsely accused all Japanese Americans many years ago. We know that this is not the case and we call on ICE to stop repeating history and to release the children and their families.

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