[Editor’s note: The following statement was issued by JACL Executive Director David Inoue and Public Affairs VP Sarah Baker and was lightly edited only to adhere to AP Style.]
On Feb. 23, the Washington Post reported that the Biden administration has reopened the temporary immigrant concentration camp at Carrizo Springs, Texas. This action appears to stand in stark contrast to the president’s remarks at the signing of a series of executive orders earlier this month where he stated, “We’re going to work to undo the moral and national shame of the previous administration.”
In a statement from the Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families, dated Monday, Feb. 22, there are now approximately 6,800 children under the supervision of the Office of Refugee Relocation. The expectation is that as many as 700 will be housed at Carrizo Springs.
Nearly 75 years have passed since the closure of the last American concentration camp housing Japanese Americans. Those camps were also promoted to the public as idyllic, with regular activities such as school and meals provided by the government. Yet the fundamental fact remained: they were prison camps, just as the facility at Carrizo Springs is now.
The impact of incarceration physically and psychologically is well-documented. For children, it can be especially devastating with the effects lasting far beyond the time of release and with the potential to reach into subsequent generations as it has impacted multigenerational Japanese Americans.
With an average time in detention of 42 days as stated in the HHS release, the government is holding children more than twice as long as the 20 days prescribed by the Flores Settlement. While we recognize the challenges of matching children to a safe placement with family or other custodians and the fact that the current alternative is holding children in border prisons, the government must make better efforts to place these children to eliminate the necessity of mass incarceration facilities such as Carrizo Springs.
We as a country have a moral obligation to care for and protect these children who are in search of a better life. We call upon President Biden to make good on his promise to return our immigration policies to the moral high ground, but we cannot achieve this so long as we are incarcerating immigrant families and children.