History is repeating itself with family detention centers

Leah Kashar

If the United States should be ashamed of any of its past political decisions, Japanese internment camps must be extremely high on the list. The children imprisoned in these camps, without due process of the law, were traumatized for life. We don’t think of ourselves as capable of doing it all over again, but we are, and we are currently letting history repeat itself.

Upon entering the United States, refugees are put into these detention centers where they await official asylum or refugee status, which are both legal statuses that must be approved by a judge. This process can take months, even years. These individuals see the United States as a safe haven to reach, but once they arrive they are locked up like criminals.

Until recent years, women and children throughout the United States could not be put in detention centers. The only thing that prevented children from being locked up was that detention centers were not certified child care facilities. In order to get around that, the state of Texas certified detention centers as child care facilities. To be incredibly clear, these are not child care facilities. They are prisons.

Texas’ treatment of children in detention centers is unnecessary and entirely inhumane. The United States is repeating its own shameful history with internment camps, and must be aware of the human rights violations that it is committing.

While standards for family detention centers do exist, they are not codified. Meaning, there are ways that family detention is supposed to run, but these rules are not punishable by law and as such are rarely followed. Young children are put in prison jumpsuits, and when they are too loud, they are commonly punished by being separated from their parents.

Many of these children have already been through traumatic situations, such as dealing with gang violence or economic persecution. Now, they live their lives in constant fear of prison guards. Studies have shown that being in detention is psychologically damaging for anyone, let alone a small child.

On January 14, 1942, President Roosevelt signed an executive order placing Japanese-Americans into detention camps for the “safety of Americans”, irreparably doing psychological damage, among other horrors. These are the sorts of wrongs that we cannot afford to forget.

Today, toxic rhetoric surrounding immigration mirrors what we swore to never do again. Presidential candidate Donald Trump has proposed to ban all Muslims from the US, which 6 out of 10 GOP voters support. Instead of accepting Syrian refugees fleeing impossible life situations with open arms, we are placing them into prison-like conditions indefinitely until they can be tried in court. These parallels are incredibly important to realize and must be considered going forward as the US continues to imprison innocent people.

The United States, compared to similar countries, is an awful place to enter as a refugee. People seeking refugee status are treated like animals as opposed to people, and we must reform our system to be humane and caring. Children, of all people, should be given their childhood and not forced to sit in a detention center. Prisons and detention centers are not childcare facilities and should not be treated as such.

Beyond policy, this is a matter of morality. Americans need to remember the nation’s past and not make it the future.

Kashar is an English freshman from Scarsdale. Follow her on Twitter @leahkashar.