Immigrant Children Will Reportedly Be Housed at a Former Japanese Internment Camp


Just another one of those “America is great because America is good” stories that we love: Time reported last night that the Trump administration has chosen Fort Sill in Oklahoma, the former site of a Japanese incarceration camp, as the site of a “temporary emergency influx shelter” to house immigrant children.

According to the Densho Encyclopedia, an online encyclopedia of the Japanese incarceration program, Fort Sill held approximately 700 Japanese immigrants in 1942; the prisoners “slept in four-man tents and were forbidden from resting during the day.” The new detention facilities will hold 1,400 children.

In his Encyclopedia of Japanese Internment, Gary Y. Okhiro recounts a particularly grisly incident that occurred at Fort Sill:

On May 12, 1942, Kanesaburo Oshima, a barber from the island of Hawai’i, climbed the outer barbed-wire fence in broad daylight reportedly shouting, “I want to go home!” A guard barked out a warning, while another shot Oshima dead in front of his friends who had urged they be allowed to help him get down from the fence and return to the camp. Oshima was depressed, his friends revealed. He had been forced to leave his wife and 12 children who had little means of support. Since his internment. Oshima constantly worried over their well-being, he confided to his priest and friend. Now he was dead. Homi Nakayama, his priest, presided over Oshima’s funeral. which was attended by all of Fort Sill’s Japanese Americans. Also present were Army guards with machine guns pointed at the mourners because of they feared an uprising.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will operate the facility at Fort Sill. HHS has custody of children who arrive at the border and are awaiting being placed with a sponsor or family member in the U.S..

This, incredibly, is not the first time Fort Sill has been used in this decade for the purpose of detaining migrant kids. After a spike in unaccompanied children crossing the border in 2014, the Obama administration also temporarily deployed military bases the house the children—including at Fort Sill. The idea of housing children at military bases was resurrected after the Trump administration enacted the family separation policy. (Though that policy has officially been rescinded, Vox reported in February that some immigrant families were still being separated.)

But the numbers of unaccompanied children arriving at the border keeps rising: 40,900 this year, according to HHS figures provided to Time, a 57 percent increase from last year.

There’s absolutely no denying that the Trump administration has been especially vicious and callous towards immigrants, asylum seekers, and their children; clearly, the family separation policy showed that they simply do not care about children. But it’s worth reiterating that the Obama administration housed children at Fort Sill, too, and that facilities and conditions at the border were awful under Obama, and that physical and sexual abuse at HHS and CBP facilities occurred under Obama. This system is immoral and violent no matter who’s at the top of it.

The use of a former Japanese internment camp to house children that are fleeing in part because of American support for tyrants in Central America is just a reminder that American atrocities are not some distant past, in a sterile museum where we solemnly bow our heads and then walk off to get ice cream. American atrocities happen, in fact, every day. And we’re never that far from committing the crimes we’re all supposed to agree should never happen again.

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