WASHINGTON — The JACL issued the following statement on June 12:
The Japanese American Citizens League is shocked and dismayed by the administration’s announcement that unaccompanied minors will be incarcerated at Fort Sill [Oklahoma], a former World War II incarceration site.
In 1942, Fort Sill imprisoned approximately 700 Japanese immigrants without evidence of sedition or disloyalty. These individuals were part of the initial wave of roundups of community leaders and others who were first generation immigrants to the United States from Japan, though some had lived in this country for many years.
Fort Sill was also used under the previous administration for emergency housing of detained immigrants. It was wrong then and is wrong now. JACL reiterates our opposition to the nation’s policy of expanded detention of minors often for periods longer than legally acceptable. The psychological damage being done to these children is permanent and will be echoed by way of intergenerational trauma for years to come.
Upon learning of the government’s decision to utilize Fort Sill for the imprisonment of children, JACL President Jeffrey Moy noted, “All of the incarceration sites today remind the Japanese American community of the pain our government inflicted upon us. Many of those who survived the camps and who are still living today, were children when they were incarcerated.
“Reactivating sites such as Fort Sill for the purpose of incarcerating children serves only to reopen these deep emotional scars while simultaneously creating new ones in an already vulnerable population.”
JACL calls upon the administration to reconsider its ongoing expansion of juvenile detention. This expansion of detention as a deterrent necessitates the reopening of Fort Sill and other sites to accommodate the growing population of unnecessarily incarcerated asylum seekers.
We implore upon Congress to seek swift passage of the Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act, which would prohibit prolonged detention of minors and promote the use of community based supervision programs.
Members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus also weighed in:
Rep. Judy Chu (D-Pasadena), CAPAC chair: “I have been and continue to be strongly opposed to the imprisonment of migrant children seeking asylum in our country. The administration’s choice to hold these children at a site once used for Japanese internment is blind to the lessons we should have learned from this shameful chapter in our nation’s history.
“The civil rights of the Japanese American families and children who were imprisoned during World War II were horrendously violated. Decades later, the same can be said for the migrant children being detained in child prison camps across the nation.
“This is unacceptable, and it’s the reason why I introduced the Shut Down Child Prison Camps Act with Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.). We must ensure that we learn from our past mistakes and make every effort possible to put an end to the detention of innocent children.”
Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Sacramento), CAPAC Executive Board member: “The Trump Administration’s decision to use a military base that once housed Japanese Americans during internment is fundamentally wrong and tone-deaf. The internment of over a hundred thousand Japanese Americans is a stain on our nation’s history.
“With this recent action, I fear that the Trump Administration is ignoring a painful moment of our past. That’s why I have continually stood up to this administration’s policy of detaining children. No child’s civil liberties or human rights should ever be discounted on our watch.”
Rep. Mark Takano (D-Riverside), CAPAC second vice chair: “Families like mine still bear the scars from the suffering they underwent when they were held in Japanese internment camps during World War II. It is shameful and immoral for our government to be holding immigrant children seeking asylum in those very same facilities that caused so much suffering.
“Military bases, makeshift camps, and federal prison cells are not appropriate places to house people who are coming to this country seeking asylum, especially children. The inhumanity we are witnessing, and the treatment of immigrants and asylum seekers has become a humanitarian crisis that must be addressed.
“We must restore humanity into our immigration process and fix our broken immigration system to keep families together and support those seeking refuge in America.”
Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Los Angeles), CAPAC whip: “It’s appalling that the Trump Administration is still holding migrant children in detention. This administration’s inhumane decision to continue to detain families and children crossing our southern border is worth highlighting and decrying.”
In addition to Matsui, who was born in the Poston, Ariz. camp, and her late husband, Rep. Robert Matsui (Tule Lake), former CAPAC chairs Norman Mineta (Heart Mountain, Wyo.) and Mike Honda (Amache, Colo.) were incarcerated with their families at a young age.
A Death at Fort Sill
Kanesaburo Oshima, aka Kensaburo Oshima, born in Nagano Prefecture, was a shopkeeper and businessman who lived in Kealakekua on the Big Island of the Territory of Hawaii. He was married and had 11 children.
On islands outside of Oahu, where the Japanese Consulate in Honolulu could not afford to place a permanent staff member, unpaid volunteers assisted Issei in filling out marriage, birth, and death reports for entry into the Issei’s village records back in Japan. The FBI and the Army identified 212 persons, including Oshima, as “Japanese consular agents,” and on Dec. 7, 1941, arrested all within this group along with various religious and community leaders.
The Army initially detained him at the Kilauea military camp on the Big Island, then at the Sand Island detention camp on Oahu, then shipped him to San Francisco, where he landed on March 20, 1942. Oshima and other Hawaii Issei were then taken to what became his final destination, the Fort Sill Internment Center.
He was very concerned about his large family that he left behind, that he would be deported to Japan, and of his business debts when the Army arrested him. The strain of separation and obligations became overwhelming. On May 12, 1942, at 7:30 a.m., he walked to the camp’s double-wired fence and started to climb the first fence.
A Hawaii internee reported, “Fellow internees at the scene tried to pull him down. But he climbed so fast and they could not catch him. He jumped down on the other side of [the] inner fence that was about ten feet high. A guard on duty standing nearby ordered him to stop, but he started running away southward. The guard chased him with a pistol in his hand.
“Watching the guard chasing him, fellow internees ran together with the guard along the fence shouting, ‘Don’t shoot! He is insane.’ The guard seemed to be slightly hesitant, but he tried to shoot Mr. Oshima two or three times. Bullets did not hit him.
“Mr. Oshima, horrified by the sound of pistol, ran toward the foot of the guard-post tower where machine guns were positioned. He started to climb the barbed wire and reached the top of the fence, then he stopped there. At that moment, a guard who came running shot Mr. Oshima from the back.
“One bullet went through his head and he fell down on his back. Mr. Oshima died on the spot.”
Oshima died on May 12, 1942; he was 58 years old.