HomeAsian AmericansJapanese American organization draws on history of illness in WWII concentration camps,...

Japanese American organization draws on history of illness in WWII concentration camps, calls for release of immigrants detained by ICE

Satsuki Ina and her brother and mother, days before an epidemic of chicken pox spread through the Tule Lake Segregation Center where they were incarcerated during WWII.
Photo from Tsuru for Solidarity via Facebook.

Non profit organization Tsuru for Solidarity is urging Japanese Americans around the nation today to call officials and demand the release of all immigrants from Washington’s Northwest Detention Center. 

This national day of action is part of the Detention Watch Network’s #FreeThemAll campaign to release immigrants in US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention to prevent migrant jails from becoming epicenters of the spread of COVID-19. 

Tsuru for Solidarity has been involved in several protests against ICE detention facilities and resettlement practices due to the history of Japanese American incarceration during World War II. 

As part of the #FreeThemAll campaign, the organization has shared stories in a Facebook album called “Contagion in the Camps,” which highlights how illness and disease impacted Japanese Americans in WWII camps. 

“Sickness was a familiar way of life for many of us inside the prison camp during WWII,” wrote Satsuki Ina, Tsuru for Solidarity co-chair and Tule Lake concentration camp survivor.

In a caption of a photo of her with her brother and mother days before a chicken pox epidemic, Ina said that overcrowding and substandard health care meant detainees were subjected to significantly higher rates of communicable diseases.

Across the United States, outbreaks in WWII camps included polio, dysentery, mumps, valley fever, measles and chicken pox. 

Tsuru for Solidarity has provided phone call scripts and email templates for people to express concerns to Washington officials about the impact of COVID-19 on ICE detainees today.

“‘Sheltering in Place’ inside today’s ICE and Customs and Border Patrol facilities is a tragic oxymoron,” Ina said. “As we personally witnessed during our own incarceration, today’s detention facilities for imprisoned asylum seekers is a potential death trap for those living in mass detention where unsanitary conditions with no regular access to running water and limits on the availability of soap make it impossible for detainees to protect themselves from the hypervirulent corona virus.” 

According to Quartz, ICE is continuing to imprison tens of thousands of individuals during the coronavirus pandemic. On Tuesday, the agency reported its first confirmed positive case of COVID-19 in its custody.

ICE said those who came in contact with the individual, a 31-year-old Mexican national now in quarantine, have been cohorted and are being monitored according to CDC guidelines. According to CNN, the detainee was being held at a New Jersey facility where a corrections officer at the facility tested positive for the coronavirus a week prior.

Courthouse News reports that immigrants imprisoned in New Jersey are on a hunger strike because they say they are only getting one bar of soap per week for showers and hand washing.

In a statement, ICE said it is delaying mass arrests and will not make arrests at hospital, noting that individuals should not avoid seeking medical care because they fear civil immigration enforcement.

Advocates like Ranit Mishori, senior medical adviser for the nonprofit Physicians for Human Rights, aren’t comforted.

Mishori told Courthouse News there is a lack of transparency from ICE and its contractors about how they are internally preparing for an outbreak inside their prisons, adding that the agency has a bad track record of containing infectious diseases and has seen a recent spike in deaths.

In a release calling on Japanese American individuals to share their own personal and family history with detention facilities and disease, Tsuru for Solidarity described the situation as a public health emergency.

“Imprisoning individuals in such conditions was inhumane then, and it is inhumane now,” the release said. 

More information about the National Day of Action and Tsuru for Solidarity can be found on the organization’s Facebook event and website.

AsAmNews has Asian America in its heart. We’re an all-volunteer effort of dedicated staff and interns. Check out our new Instagram account. Go to our  Twitter feed and Facebook page for more content. Please consider interning, joining our staff, or submitting a story.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


Worth the Time

Must Read

Regular Features


Discover more from AsAmNews

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading