On June 25, the Manzanar Committee, sponsors of the annual Manzanar Pilgrimage since 1969 and the more recent Manzanar At Dusk program for the last 21 years, denounced the policies and actions by President Donald Trump and his administration that have either separated children of immigrants entering the United States from their families or needlessly incarcerated immigrants, individually or as families.
Manzanar Committee Co-Chair Bruce Embrey noted striking similarities between the current attacks on immigrants and the unjust incarceration of more than 110,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans in concentration camps and other confinement sites during World War II.
“The humanitarian crisis facing our country, brought on by the Trump Administration’s ‘zero tolerance policy,’ is not only highly reminiscent of what our community suffered during World War II,” said Embrey. “In fact, the parallels are more than disturbing. The forced removal was justified by portraying the Japanese American community as untrustworthy, un-American and as potential or real enemies within our midst. Anti-Asian racism, whipped up by many in the media and government, fueled calls for mass incarceration and the violation of our community’s constitutional and human rights.
“The language and sentiment are fundamentally no different today, whether the Trump Administration chooses to attack Mexican, Central American, or Muslim immigrants. Talk of immigrants and refugees ‘invading’ or ‘infesting’ our country and calls for deportations with ‘no judges or court cases’ expose both the xenophobia and unconstitutionality of the ‘zero tolerance’ policy.
“Let’s be clear that President Trump has surrounded himself with people in his administration who have long and deep ties to racist, anti-immigrant organizations and that they feed the media false accusations and massive distortions about the criminality of immigrants, as rapists, gang members, drug dealers and far worse.”
According to Embrey, President Franklin D. Roosevelt was ultimately responsible for the incarceration of Japanese Americans, and the buck also stops in the Oval Office today, with Trump ultimately responsible for repeating history.
“That President Trump is considering using military bases and military legal personnel to imprison refugees and immigrants is basically a repetition of what our grandfathers, fathers and other Issei had to endure in Fort Missoula, Santa Fe, and many other prisons operated by the Department of Justice or the military,” Embrey said. “Our families were rounded up, torn apart and incarcerated behind barbed wire by our military, often times on military bases or facilities.
“Some 76 years ago our families did not know where their fathers, husbands and grandfathers were taken. No information was provided, no charges were filed and certainly, no crime was committed. Nevertheless, the federal government detained thousands of innocent immigrants. Children and other family members were left to wonder if they would ever see their loved ones again. This is a criminal repetition of history that must be condemned.”
That children are being targeted and victimized by the Trump Administration is yet another way that a dark chapter in the nation’s history is being repeated, Embrey added:
“Perhaps the most absurd and outrageous policy is that Japanese American infants or young children posed a national security threat during World War II. We saw this with the forced removal when orphans were placed behind barbed wire at the Manzanar concentration camp. The orphanage, euphemistically called ‘Children’s Village,’ was home to 101 children, many just toddlers; 76 years later, small children, including infants, are being taken from their families and placed behind barbed-wire or wire cages. This shows that many in our nation have not learned from our recent history, or worse, believe it to be prudent policy, then and now.
“The 2,300 incarcerated children, hidden from public view and after being torn from their families, are suffering psychological and physical abuse. The indifference to the emotional trauma inflicted on these innocent children is gut-wrenching. The appeals to racists emanating from the White House, the lies and atrocities committed in the name of national security, must be exposed for what they are: a demagogic appeal for political gain.”
During World War II, the Roosevelt Administration operated as if the rights afforded to the people by the Constitution did not apply to everyone on an equal basis, and the Trump Administration is operating in virtually identical fashion, Embrey said.
“The world is watching. Because of the actions of the Trump Administration, our nation is increasingly seen, and is increasingly becoming, one that is all too willing to violate the constitutional and human rights of innocent people for political gain. En masse detention of families fleeing violence, poverty or other life-threatening situations is not viable or acceptable, no matter how shrill the demagogic appeals to national chauvinism are.
“Families must be reunited and immigrants must not be attacked and scapegoated.”