WASHINGTON — Amid the uproar over the federal government’s “zero-tolerance” policy for illegal border-crossings that have resulted in nearly 2,000 children being separated from parents and being placed in temporary shelters, the Washington office of the Japanese American Citizens League has issued a statement condemning what it calls “concentration camps” for the children.
“The trauma that our country is inflicting upon these children must end now,” said the JACL.
Adults apprehended by Immigration and Customs Enforcement for improperly entering the U.S. can be fined and imprisoned or deported. Since April, minor children of an adult arrested for improper entry now are separated from the parent or parents and placed in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement until reunification, which can vary from hours to several days.
News reports have shown young children, some as young as 4, held in cage-like facilities. At present, nearly 2,000 children have been separated from their parents since the “zero-tolerance” began.
In its statement, the JACL wrote: “JACL’s fundamental purpose is to ensure Americans remain mindful of the civil rights errors of our past, that the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans serves as a glaring example of what should never happen again. Unfortunately, our government has once again established concentration camps, only this time to imprison children who have been separated from their parents who have come to our country, often seeking asylum.
“The Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, suggested last week that his proposed immigration bill might offer a legislative solution to put an end to the separation of children from their parents. Unfortunately, the proposed bill would do more harm to our nation’s immigration system, decimating avenues for legal immigration long used by Asian American and Pacific Islander families. More complicated, less inclusive bills are not the answer we need; a true solution, such as the clean and simple Keeping Families Together Act, should be able to pass on its own merit.
“There are now approximately 2,000 children incarcerated at the border without the comfort of their parents. Health care providers including psychiatrists, psychologists, and pediatricians, as well as faith leaders, are universally opposed to these inhumane and immoral practices because of the likely long lasting damage to these children.
“Today, with 75 years of experience behind us, we have seen the effects of incarceration on Japanese American families. Some families were separated when a parent was identified as disloyal without trial or conviction, and sent to prison camps just as today’s immigrants are being imprisoned automatically at the border. “Even for the families that remained together, the scars inflicted by the experience of mass incarceration were deep. Post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health effects of trauma, leading to anxiety, depression, or even suicide, were not uncommon in adults and children who experienced the camps. The impact of the camps further extended to and deeply affected the children of the incarcerees.
“This was the legacy of the camps that challenged our community for many years, and still does today. And this is why so many of us stand today in opposition to this practice of separating children from their parents, cognizant of the long-term damage that is being done now and upon generations to come.”
According to published news reports, HHS operates more than 100 temporary shelters in 17 states. The shelters hold both separated children and minors who have improperly crossed into the U.S. on their own.
Children placed within HHS shelters are held until they can be released to a family member, guardian or foster family in the United States.