July 21, 2019
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Japanese-Americans interred in WWII see parallel to detained migrants' plight

 Hiroshi Shimizu prepares to testify before a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing in Washington DC, USA, Nov. 20, 2014. EPA-EFE FILE/JIM LO SCALZO

Hiroshi Shimizu prepares to testify before a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing in Washington DC, USA, Nov. 20, 2014. EPA-EFE FILE/JIM LO SCALZO

By Ana Milena Man

Los Angeles, USA, Jun 25 (efe-epa).- United States citizens of Japanese origin who lived through forced internment during World War II told EFE that they were seeing their own traumatic experience reflected in the current conditions suffered by undocumented minors held in detention centers, sparking fears that the injustice they faced more than seven decades ago is being repeated all over again.

Hiroshi Shimizu, the president of the Tule Lake Committee, said there were clear parallels between the present-day treatment of Central American refugees by the administration of President Donald Trump and the wartime internment camps set up under the infamous Executive Order 9066 that are now widely considered a moral blight on US history.

"The basic thing our government is doing now, incarcerating and separating families, is what our government did to us from 1942 to 1947," Shimizu said.

He was born and lived the first few years of his life at the Tule Lake camp in northern California – where at one point up to 18,000 people were held against their will – despite being a US citizen.

Following Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor and the US' subsequent entry into the deadliest conflict in history, more than 120,000 Japanese-Americans were interned in these camps under orders of President Franklin D Roosevelt, based on the tenuous argument that they represented a potential danger to the country due to their perceived allegiance to the Empire of the Rising Sun.

Japanese-American activists gathered over the past weekend to protest at Fort Sill, a military-run installation in northern Oklahoma where federal authorities are reportedly planning to transfer hundreds of undocumented minors this summer.

A group of internment camp survivors spearheaded by human rights activist Satsuki Ina denounced the government's alleged plans as they pointed out that the same site had been used to detain Japanese-American civilians in the 1940s.

"We were charged without any evidence of being a threat to national security; we were told that we were an 'unassimilable race,' that we were a threat to the economy," Ina, who was also born at the Tule Lake camp, thundered. "We're here today to speak out, to protest the unjust incarceration of innocent people seeking refuge in this country."

"We stand with them and we say: Stop repeating history!" she added.

Shimizu, meanwhile, underscored his belief that the result of the Trump administration's inhumane policies could end up being more devastating than the horrors suffered by his own community during the Second World War.

"What is horrendous today is that our government is separating children from their mothers and – even more horrendous – they have created prisons for these children," the 76-year-old said.

"The government is needlessly causing irreparable psychological damage to thousands of people," added the activist, who has also protested in Crystal City, Texas (where one of the country's biggest internment camps for Japanese-Americans was located).

The outrage over the conditions of detained minors erupted after a Department of Justice attorney, Sarah Fabian, defended during a hearing at the Ninth Circuit federal appeals court last week that the government was under no obligation to provide the children with soap, toothbrushes or even beds.

On the other hand, Democratic Party congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez compared the detention centers for migrants to concentration camps, a comparison that was lambasted by right-wing Republicans who described it as insensitive to the horrors of the Holocaust despite the fact that concentration camps existed both before and after the Nazi terror.

Julian Castro, the former housing secretary and mayor of San Antonio, Texas, who recently announced his presidential bid in the Democratic primaries, told EFE that the focus needed to be on what was happening at these facilities, beyond debates about their proper nomenclature.

Antonio Kazumu Naganuma, who was detained along with his parents in Peru and sent to an internment camp on US soil in 1944, said the important thing was to highlight the facts as well as the injustices committed by the so-called "Land of the Free."

"Because my family and 3,000 Japanese-Peruvians were put into the DoJ camps by force, at gun point, it is important to tell this history that also included German-Americans and Italian-Americans," Naganuma said.

Holly Cooper, the director of the Immigration Law Clinic at the University of California, Davis, told EFE that by mid-June there were 13,179 unaccompanied children held in detention centers, adding that their conditions were "depressing and inhumane."

The bleak reports stemming from these centers have failed to surprise Shimizu, who insisted that he – like other survivors of the Japanese-American internment camps – was "committed to opposing the immigration policies" of the Trump administration until they are put to an end.


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