We are reliving one of America’s darkest moments by detaining immigrant children in former Japanese American Internment Camps

by Mikka Macdonald | July 27, 2019 8:30 am

Heart Mountain Internment Camp

When I first learned about how my grandparents were imprisoned in WWII’s Japanese American Internment Camps, I was embarrassed, hurt, and unwilling to accept history as truth. 

Now ,as President Trump plans to use the abandoned camps to house migrant children, I can’t help but think how their descendants will react when they learn about the hatred President Trump waged against them. 

My grandparents were imprisoned in the Japanese American Internment Camps nearly eighty years ago, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration deemed anyone of Japanese Ancestry as a threat. Without proof or due process, more than 100,000 people of Japanese descent were incarcerated in a series of camps across the Western side of the United States. 

Earlier this month, the Trump administration announced that they would use one the former detainment sites to house approximately 1,400 migrant children.

Fort Sill, an Oklahoma Army base used during World War II, is once again filled with people being detained simply because of where they came from and what they look like. The Trump administration, a government known for putting immigrant children specifically at risk, is once again proving that their hatred has few bounds. 

I wince for the pain that these children are living through right now, and for what that means for their descendants when they learn about their family’s history. When I first learned about how my grandparents were imprisoned in WWII’s Japanese American Internment Camps, I was embarrassed, hurt, and unwilling to accept history as truth. 

I was embarrassed that the color of my family’s skin, the shape of their eyes, and the curve of their cheekbones labeled them a threat to American security. I was hurt when I began to understand how after working hard and “playing by the rules,” my grandparent’s families had everything taken from them. I had a hard time believing the history I was being told because these stories did not match up with my country that thought I knew: A place where humanity was valued, regardless of where a person came from or what they looked like. 

Today, the shame and hurt have faded, but the childhood disbelief has dissolved into a harder resolve that our country has always criminalized people who look and speak differently than those in power. The Japanese American Internment Camps were neither the first or darkest stain on American history, but they were by any measure, terrible, and a reflection of some of the worst hatred our government has to offer. 

As I watch the President of the United States use these places of generational trauma as literal beds for migrant children, it is clear that this administration is paying no heed to the racial injustices this country has endured and the effects that their actions will play for generations to come. 

And I am not alone.

Immediately after news of Fort Sill broke, the Japanese American community, together with historians, civil liberties advocates, and people from every corner of the country raised their voice in opposition.

Satsuki Ina is a Japanese American psychotherapist who was born in the camps during the war, and whose work specifically looks at the effects of this type of trauma. “I know what’s happening to these children will have a lasting impact on their mental health,” Ina said in an interview with Vice. “Indefinite detention is a form of torture.”

Yale historian, Joanne Freeman said on Twitter, “It feels as though history can’t yell any louder than this.”

Today, I am still embarrassed, hurt, and in a state of disbelief, but it is less about my own family’s history. Instead, I am ashamed for my country, hurt for these children, and in disbelief that our government continues to devalue the people who are the most vulnerable. 

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