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News / Northwest

Japanese Americans join activists Sunday to call for closure of Tacoma immigration jail

By Peter Talbot, The News Tribune
Published: February 15, 2024, 5:44pm

TACOMA — Descendants of Japanese Americans incarcerated in internment camps during World War II and former detainees of Tacoma’s immigration detention center will come together Sunday to demand the closure of the facility.

The two-part event will begin at the Washington State Fair grounds, where 7,600 people of Japanese descent from Alaska, Seattle and Pierce County were incarcerated at the Puyallup Assembly Center, also known as Camp Harmony after President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 on Feb. 19, 1942. The order led to the forcible removal of more than 100,000 Japanese Americans from their homes and communities after Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbor.

Attendees then will move to the Northwest ICE Processing Center, formerly known as the Northwest Detention Center, to protest the history of forcibly removing and incarcerating communities of color in the United States, from Japanese Americans to immigrants and asylum seekers held in detention in Tacoma.

“We’re standing up now to tell the entire country, you cannot condemn Japanese American incarceration, and, in the same breath, allow the same treatment to be given to minorities today,” said Kiku Hughes, a Seattle-area cartoonist and volunteer with Tsuru for Solidarity, a nonviolent direct action project of Japanese American social justice advocates.

If You Go

What: Two-part program sharing stories of Japanese American incarceration and its lasting impact, as well as the present conditions of detainees inside the Northwest ICE Processing Center.

When: Sunday, 1 p.m.

Where: State Fair Agriplex, Fifth St. S.W., Puyallup

What: Japanese American organizers from Tsuru for Solidarity join local immigrant rights group La Resistencia to call for a shutdown of the Northwest ICE Processing Center.

When: 2:30 p.m.

Where: Northwest ICE Processing Center, 1623 E. J St., Tacoma

The event is part of a week of action Tsuru for Solidarity and local activist group La Resistencia are undertaking to coincide with the Day of Remembrance, the anniversary of the signing of Executive Order 9066. Japanese Americans have been observing such a day since 1978, Hughes said, and in 2022, President Joe Biden issued a proclamation formally recognizing Feb. 19 as the Day of Remembrance of Japanese American Incarceration During World War II.

The week of action begins at 9 a.m. Friday with a press conference at the Henry M. Jackson Federal Building in Seattle, 915 2nd Ave., where organizers from the two groups will make speeches and call for the closure of the Tacoma detention center.

On Sunday, speakers at the fairgrounds will include Mary Tanaka Abo, whose family was forced to move to the Puyallup detention facility in March 1942 from their home in Juneau, Alaska. Her family of six stayed in makeshift barracks for several months before being sent to Minidoka, an Idaho incarceration camp where they lived for the next few years.

At the detention center in Tacoma, folded cranes known as tsuru and other art pieces will be hung on the facility’s fence, and the sound of taiko drums will fill the air to communicate solidarity with those held inside.

Former and current detainees are expected to speak. Hughes said La Resistencia is sometimes able to communicate with detainees currently held in custody by phone or video chat. The Khmer Advocacy and Advancement group, which works to advance the rights of refugees and immigrants, will also give a speech. The event will close with a blessing by the Rev. Taijo Imanaka, head priest at Seattle Koyasan Buddhist Temple.

The Northwest ICE Processing Center is one of the largest immigrant detention centers in the United States with a capacity for 1,575 people. Since it opened in 2004 it has been criticized for alleged human-rights abuses and received complaints from detainees over poor conditions and delays in meeting with ICE officials about their immigration cases. Detainees staged multiple hunger strikes in 2023, one as long as 53 days, according to La Resistencia.

This is the fifth year Tsuru for Solidarity has joined La Resistencia to call for the closure of the detention center, according to Hughes. She said she thinks the facility is antithetical to what people in Western Washington think of themselves

“It is a private, for-profit corporation that operates this detention center, which means that it is a building that is profiting off of human suffering,” Hughes said.

The survivors of Japanese American incarceration faced similar conditions to those of asylum seekers and other immigrants held in indefinite detention, Hughes said. And a major part of that experience for Japanese Americans, she said, was the psychological trauma of not knowing whether they would be allowed to remain in the United States where many of them were born, or if they would be sent to Japan.

“You build a life here, you have a family, and then suddenly, it’s sort of stripped away from you,” Hughes said. “For reasons that are, you know, racially motivated, that are a part of a larger effort to create a scapegoat for larger issues in America.”

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