Record numbers of unaccompanied children from Central America have crossed the border in recent months. So many that the Office of Refugee Resettlement has been scrambling to find housing for them.
Earlier this month the agency announced it has chosen a military base as a temporary shelter: Fort Sill in Oklahoma, which was used during World War II as an internment camp for Japanese Americans and Japanese immigrants. Before that, it was the longtime prison for Apache leader Geronimo.
The Trump administration has been under fire for its treatment of migrant children, drawing comparisons to the U.S. government’s internment of Japanese Americans and Japanese immigrants in the 1940s. Yale historian Joanne Freeman said on Twitter: “It feels as though history can’t yell any louder than this.”
On Saturday, the Los Angeles Times reported, a small group of Japanese internment camp survivors protested outside the gates of Fort Sill.
“We are here today to protest the repetition of history,” declared 75-year-old Satsuki Ina. She was among two dozen former internees and their descendants protesting the Trump administration plan to house 1,400 migrant children at the base, the Times said.
This isn’t the first time that Fort Sill has been used this way, though. During the Obama presidency, unaccompanied children were housed there for four months. At the time, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R) blamed Obama’s “failed immigration policies," saying, “It is alarming to have 1,200 children in a military Installation.”
In fact, Fort Sill has a long history of holding children.
It was established in 1869 for U.S. soldiers fighting Native Americans. In 1894, eight years after Apache leader Geronimo had surrendered, he was transferred to Fort Sill. He was joined by nearly 400 other Apaches, including women and children. They could move freely inside Fort Sill’s large area, and some, including Geronimo, were allowed to leave to perform in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. But they were still considered prisoners of war.
Geronimo died of pneumonia at Fort Sill in 1909, and was buried there in the Apache Prisoner of War Cemetery. The remaining prisoners and their descendants were finally freed in 1914.
In 1942, the fort became a prison once again, as about 350 Japanese nationals living in the United States, called Issei, were sent there, according to the National Park Service.
Conditions were harsh. The prisoners lived in tents, which they struggled to keep upright during wind storms. In the summer, there was no shade, and temperatures reached triple digits. And on May 12, 1942, a man named Kensaburo Oshima was killed by military guards.
Distraught over being separated from his 11 children, Oshima climbed over one of two barbed wire fences, crying, “I want to go home,” before being shot in the head.
In recent months, migrant children have also been housed in tents; it is unclear what their accommodations will be like at Fort Sill. They may not have much to do, though; English classes, recreational programs and legal aid have been cut.
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