The World War II-era United States was shaken to its core on Feb. 19, 1942 when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, authorizing the forced relocation and internment of thousands of Americans of Japanese ancestry.
Such camps, a notable example being the Manzanar War Relocation Center, were notorious for their inhumane conditions and brutal treatment of those incarcerated there. According to the United States National Archives, approximately 117,000 people were said to have been 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 39,322 across 200 facilities in 2018, a number far greater than any averages of years prior.
However, this information has, unsurprisingly, been brought into question. According to NBC News, the actual number is estimated to be far higher, closer to 52,000 immigrants per day admitted to Immigration and Customs Enforcement affiliated facilities.
President Donald Trump assures us through frequent tweets that all of these individuals pose great danger to our nation and should thus be punished. However, in the first month of 2018, ICE categorized only 15% of people admitted to the centers as posing significant danger to our communities, as stated in the report.
More disturbing than the sheer numbers 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 (including abuse of those with medical illnesses) and violations of basic safety and health regulations.
Such a system bears disturbing similarities to the system put into effect by Roosevelt during World War II. In the 1940s, Japanese Americans were torn from their homes and lives without trial or sufficient due process and forced to submit to the fears of the majority of the American populace by separating themselves from it so that they posed no perceived threat to the community.
Similarly, in 2019, civilians are torn from any sense of security as they seek refuge from intolerable conditions at home, and are instead met with hostility. 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.
At their core, such camps are created for the sole purpose of separating a group of individuals from another, typically larger, majority, due to perceived danger, according to Waitman Wade Beorn in Jack Holmes’ Esquire article on U.S. detention centers.
Though it tends to be authoritarian societies that have the strongest track record in this regard, 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 cannot reasonably imprison undocumented immigrants based solely upon the expectation that they will commit crime upon entering the United States, but must instead 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.