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Internment camps must not be repeated

In September, the federal Department of Homeland Security announced a proposal to detain immigrant children with their parents — indefinitely. “Family Residential Centers” is what they call these detention facilities.

It is an innocent-sounding name. It reminds me of the “assembly centers,” “relocation centers,” and “camps” of World War II, where over 110,000 Japanese-Americans were incarcerated. They were unjustly forced from their homes, denied their civil rights, charged with no crime, and suffered cruel racism and persecution during and after the war.

Imagine being a young child, innocent of any wrongdoing, forced on a bus or a train, taken somewhere unknown, and confined to live behind barbed wire. My mom doesn’t need to imagine it; she experienced it first-hand.

When she was a fourth-grader, Mom’s entire family was forced from their home in Hood River, where they had lived peacefully for over 30 years. She remembers excitedly boarding the train (her first train ride!), only to find the shades drawn and armed guards stationed at each doorway. She remembers tags with their family number affixed to their luggage — the same tags she and everyone else had to wear.

She remembers the blazing dust storms in the summer, the biting blast of snow and ice in the winter, and the food that government documents state was “not fit for children’s diet.” She and her family were incarcerated for a year in Tulelake, California, and two additional years in Heart Mountain, Wyoming — except for her four brothers who served in the U.S. Armed Forces and who eventually received Congressional Gold Medals for their service.

Mom is now 86 years old and lives in Ashland. But memories of that experience remain sharp in her mind. She remembers her family number to this day: 16339.

A blue-ribbon federal commission concluded in 1983 that there was no “military justification for the mass exclusion and detention,” and that its root causes were “racial prejudice, wartime hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.”

Oregon U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley has proposed the “No Internment Camps Act,” which will prohibit the use of federal dollars to operate or construct family detention centers, create a one-year phase-out of currently operating family detention centers, and transfer funds to develop other community-based non-detention programs.

Immigration is a serious and complex issue that calls upon us to exercise all our intelligence and humanity. There was no justification for detention during World War II. There is even less justification for it now during peacetime.

My mother and family thank Senator Merkley for his political leadership on this issue. We strongly support his legislation and urge everyone to educate themselves on this unjust situation, and to learn about the dark history we must not repeat.

Toby Asai Loftus is an IT professional living in Portland. This opinion was signed by 17 of his family members, including Mitzi Asai Loftus, Kenneth Loftus and Melissa Katsikis, all of Ashland.

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