By Apsara Senaratne
On February 19, 1942, the United States was shaken to its core when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, authorizing the forced relocation and internment of thousands of Japanese-Americans. Such camps were notorious for their inhumane conditions. According to the United States National Archives, approximately 117,000 people were uprooted by Roosevelt’s order.
This example is one of many throughout history in which individuals were forcibly incarcerated without due cause as a result of factors such as ethnicity, sex, religion, sexuality, or even citizenship status.
According to the Department of Homeland Security’s 2018 report of immigration data, the average daily population of detainees incarcerated by the U.S. government was a whopping 39,322 across 200 facilities in 2018, a number far greater than any averages of years prior. However, according to NBC News, the actual number is estimated to be far higher, closer to 52,000 immigrants per day.
While President Donald Trump frequently states that these individuals pose great danger to our nation, in the first month of 2018, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) categorized only 15 percent of people admitted to the centers as posing significant danger to our communities, as stated in the report.
More disturbing than the sheer number of detainees is the gross neglect within the camps. The detainees are not met with appropriate humane standards primarily due to the inmates’ positions as political prisoners.
According to NBC News, under the Trump administration, 24 individuals under the custody of ICE have died, along with several more under the supervision of other agencies, as a result of what appears to be medical neglect and violations of basic safety and health regulations.
Such a system bears disturbing similarities to the system put into effect by President Roosevelt. In the 1940s, Japanese Americans were torn from their homes without trial or sufficient due process and forced to submit to the fears of the majority of the American populace.
Similarly, in 2019, people are torn from any sense of security even as they seek refuge from intolerable conditions at home. They are imprisoned or detained, deprived of their constitutional and moral right to a trial by jury, and denied a chance to escape the horrors they had faced at home rather meeting more horrors here.
Though it tends to be authoritarian societies that have the strongest track record of interning specific groups of people, as evidenced by China’s recent implementation of “reeducation camps” for over 1 million ethnic Uighur Muslims to combat their alleged inherent extremism, it appears that liberal democracies are catching up. Or, at least, we are.
We believe that we are far superior, both morally and in regards to quality of life, to countries such as China, but both the United States and China have recently exhibited an abhorrent lack of regard for human life and freedom. Our Statue of Liberty invites the unfortunate of circumstance to take shelter on our shores, but our government persecutes those who are most desperate to achieve this ideal.
The United States government must allow fair and just trials through which it may be determined whether or not refugee status can be bestowed upon such immigrants.
Forcing individuals from their families and dehumanizing them by quartering them in a manner akin to the caging of animals is damaging to their mental and physical health, as well as extremely morally unsound.
And with the Trump administration’s future plans to use Oklahoma military base Fort Sill, which had previously been used to detain Japanese Americans under Roosevelt’s order, to detain migrant children, the issue is now more urgent. We cannot turn a blind eye to this crisis, as it now seems that history is indeed repeating itself.