Fort Sill, Oklahoma: the terrible rhymes of history
History does not repeat itself, but it rhymes – Mark Twain
“Never Again” is NOW – call by many Japanese Americans to mobilize against mass incarceration today
In 1942, hundreds of Japanese immigrants were imprisoned at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Their crime? Being leaders in the American communities where they had lived, worked and raised families for decades but were forbidden by law from becoming naturalized U.S. citizens. For that reason, when war broke out between Japan and the U.S., they were classified as “enemy aliens.”
The author’s grandfather, Masuo Yasui (first row, 4th from the right), who was imprisoned at Fort Sill in 1943. The photo shows him in 1944 at the Santa Fe Detention Center to which he was transferred and remained until 1946. Yasui Family Collection.
Before, during and after World War II, Fort Sill was used as a boarding school for Native American children wrenched away from their families and communities. Today, the Trump administration will use that same place, Fort Sill, to imprison immigrant children from Central America – as the Obama administration did in 2014. We call on all persons of conscience to oppose our government’s detention policies that are turning the promise of the American Dream into a nightmare for hundreds of thousands of people.
When Fort Sill was an Indian Boarding School, children were punished for speaking their ancestral languages and forced to speak English-only. It is bitterly ironic that Trump has recently cancelled funds for educational activities for today’s imprisoned immigrant children, including English classes that would enable them to become bilingual.
Indigenous children at Fort Sill, OK. 1890. National Archives.
Fort Sill is not only a shameful reminder of past injustice and cruelty, which should be enough to give pause to designating it and other Japanese American confinement sites as new concentration camps for children. But its use as a prison for children also calls into question the whole program of mass incarceration of people seeking refuge from the expanding violence being fomented in their home countries, in large part because of U.S. policies.
Whether in military facilities or new for-profit prisons, mass incarceration of refugees, especially children, will not make America great again. America is, after all, the entire continent from the northern reaches of Alaska and Canada to the southern tip of Chile, not just the country that the President wants to barricade behind a Wall. Every person in America traces their lineage either an immigrant or an indigenous person – or in the case of most of the Central American immigrants, both.
Instead of criminalizing refugees and spending billions of dollars on a Wall and prisons like Fort Sill, we should spend those funds on non-profit community-based alternatives to detention. We should massively increase the number of immigration judges to attend to the backlog of asylum cases. We should seek to address the roots of the “crime” of migration, instituting instead an “American Marshall Plan” implemented through reliable and effective local NGOs, to enable political democracy, social stability and economic self-sustainability for Latin America.
The so-called Northern Triangle countries, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, from which most current refugees are fleeing, have suffered the crushing devastation of dictatorships installed and supported by the U.S. for decades. We should cut off military aid for Latin American countries and instead provide desperately needed democracy-building aid to help grass-root organizations rebuild societies ravaged by the oligarchs we have enabled to enrich themselves at the expense of their people, mostly impoverished farmers already racked by the wages of climate change, thereby spawning the lawless gangs terrorize desperate families to flee or send their children northward alone, out of the country, to escape their conscription, rape or murder.
It should not be a crime to seek safety. Families and especially unaccompanied children should not be imprisoned. We Japanese Americans protest the terrible rhymes of history at places like Fort Sill, Oklahoma and when we say “never again,” we mean now.
We join with defenders of civil rights throughout the country in opposing the mass incarceration of immigrants, especially children, whose only “crime” is fleeing violence and grinding poverty in their home countries.
Pending legislation in Congress (please write your Representatives and Senators in support of this legislation)
S.292 — Keep Families Together Act Sponsor: Sen. Feinstein, Dianne [D-CA] (Introduced 01/31/2019) Cosponsors: (41) Committees: Senate - Judiciary Latest Action: 01/31/2019 Read twice and referred to the Committee on the Judiciary. H.R.541 — Keep Families Together Act Sponsor: Rep. Nadler, Jerrold [D-NY-10] (Introduced 01/14/2019) Cosponsors: (195) Committees: House - Judiciary, Homeland Security Latest Action: House - 02/25/2019 Referred to the Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship.
H.R.2415 — Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act of 2019 Sponsor: Rep. Jayapal, Pramila [D-WA-7] (Introduced 04/30/2019) Cosponsors: (70) Committees: House - Judiciary, Homeland Security Latest Action: House - 05/20/2019 Referred to the Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship. S.1243 — Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act of 2019 Sponsor: Sen. Booker, Cory A. [D-NJ] (Introduced 04/30/2019) Cosponsors: (0) Committees: Senate - Judiciary Latest Action: Senate - 04/30/2019 Read twice and referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.
S.662 — Fair Day in Court for Kids Act of 2019
Sponsor: Sen. Hirono, Mazie K. [D-HI] (Introduced 03/05/2019) Cosponsors: (21)
Committees: Senate - Judiciary
Latest Action: Senate - 03/05/2019 Read twice and referred to the Committee on the Judiciary. (All Actions)