Today is the Day of Remembrance. It was on this day in 1942 that Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066.
The order authorized the secretary of war and any military commander designated by him “to prescribe military areas…from which any or all persons may be excluded.” The order does not mention Japanese Americans by name. As a result of this order, some 110,000 Japanese Americans living on the West Coast were removed from the West Coast, most to inland concentration camps. Public Law 503, enacted a month later, allowed federal courts to enforce the military orders resulting from EO 9066.
Executive Order 9066 was the culmination of decades of abuse targeting Japanese immigrants and their citizen descendants, especially on the West Coast. Immigration from Japan had been suspended, along with other Asian countries, in 1917. Japanese immigrants were not allowed to naturalize and become citizens of the United States until 1952. In California they were even denied the right to purchase land. The detention of Japanese Americans was thus not simply a response to war, but rested upon a long history of exclusionary practices targeting Asian immigrants.
Densho is an organization committed to recording the history of the U.S.detention of Japanese Americans, and keeping that history ever present as a warning about the consequences of racism and nationalism. This week, as part of the commemoration surrounding the Day of Remembrance, Densho is joining immigration activists in demonstrations at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington. From Densho:
The Day of Remembrance, Day of Action at NWDC commemorates the 78th anniversary of Executive Order 9066, and the forced removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans that followed. Today, thousands of immigrants and refugees are confined in similar concentration camps. They are subjected to inhumane conditions, family separations, threats of deportation, and countless indignities.
The Northwest Detention Center (NWDC) in Tacoma, WA is one of the largest immigration prisons in the country, with a capacity to hold up to 1,575 immigrants per day. Up to 200 people, many of whom are seeking asylum, are transferred from the US-Mexico border to the NWDC each month. Other people held at the NWDC have lived in the US for years, in some cases for the majority of their lives. While some are deported after only weeks, some are held for months and even years, awaiting the outcomes of their deportation cases. Few legal protections apply to these civil detainees, and those held are not entitled to an attorney at government expense; approximately 90% of them move forward in their cases unrepresented.
As survivors and descendants of Japanese American WWII incarceration, we stand united with all those who have suffered the atrocities of U.S. concentration camps, past and present, to say, “Stop Repeating History!”
The internment of Japanese Americans in concentration camps during the war is emblematic of the structural contradictions of the modern state system, and the foundational concept of sovereign power expressed within the confines of defined borders. Our tendency is to view the power of sovereignty through parallel concepts of the rule of law and/or constitutional order that strictly define the limits of sovereign authority. However, political theorists (with disparate commitments) like Walter Benjamin, Carl Schmitt and Giorgia Agamben have argued that sovereign power is perhaps better evidenced by the authority to declare “the exception,” or those places where the rule of law is suspended. Agamben argued that this state of exception had become so commonplace as to be the fundamental rule of the modern state. “This is a condition that [Agamben] identifies as one of abandonment, in which the law is in force but has no content or substantive meaning—it is ‘in force without significance.’” We live at the whims of rulers who declare exceptions at will.
Today, on this, the anniversary of the executive order that brought a new generation of concentration camps to the United States, we can see the parallel states of exception being carved out around the world to contain migrants. Millions of people today live in spaces where they have been pushed outside the protections of the rule of law.
Last year Trump declared that people seeking asylum in the U.S. would be forced to “Remain in Mexico” for the duration of their case. What is life like in this state of exception? From the Guardian:
A score or so migrants crouch in the dark corridor of the safe house where they have been waiting for a month. Today, their turn has come to go back on the road again – not across the US border, however, but deeper into Mexico, to save their skins.
Outside, a minivan pulls up, driven by Baptist pastor Lorenzo Ortiz to take the migrants to relative safety, and away from kidnap, extortion and violation.
This is Nuevo Laredo, in the north-west corner of Tamaulipas state, opposite Laredo, Texas, the world’s busiest commercial trans-border hub. The people waiting to board the van have already crossed into the USA, but have been sent back under the Trump administration’s so-called Migrant Protection Protocols – known as “Remain in Mexico” – whereby would be asylum seekers must await their appointed hearing south of the border.
MPP was rolled out in January last year, since when an estimated 57,000 people now wait south of the border for their asylum hearing date. Tens of thousands more are waiting just for the initial application for asylum.
These are the faces behind statistics in a shocking report by Doctors Without Borders (MSF), which found 80% of migrants waiting in Nuevo Laredo under MPP to have been abducted by the mafia, and 45% to have suffered violence or violation.
The door of the safe house opens and blinding sunlight beckons those awaiting, as does Pastor Ortiz, who arrives across the border from Laredo each morning to take a vanload to the larger city of Monterrey, Nuevo León.
There can be no tarrying, explains another local pastor, Diego Robles, from the First Baptist church. “If they walk to the corner of the block,” he says, “they’re likely to be kidnapped.”
Robles knows the risk he runs. Last August, criminals approached Aarón Méndez, a Seventh Day Adventist managing another shelter nearby, demanding he hand over Cubans in his care, whose relatives in the USA might pay high ransoms for their release.
He refused – and has not been seen since, joining the 50,000 disappeared in Mexico’s undeclared war since 2006.
This is the policy of the United States, working with the government of Mexico. Both are constitutional democracies, with clear rules and obligations for the treatment of migrants. Both are signatories to international agreements mandating humane treatment of migrants, including guaranteed access to asylum processes. Both are now placing people in a state of exception to those laws, where they are abused, and many will die.
But the United States is not alone. Across the Atlantic, the European Union has similarly declared a state of exception for migrants – 20,000 of whom live in a refugee camp in Moria on the Greek island of Lesbos:
Before reaching the refugee camp’s main entrance, you turn off the road where the police bus is always parked, then walk up the track that runs beside the perimeter fence. You walk past the military post and the hawkers selling fruit and veg, trainers, cooking utensils, cigarettes, electrical equipment – pretty much everything; past huge stinking mountains of bagged-up rubbish – so much rubbish; and past the worst toilets in the world, overflowing with excrement and plastic.
Then, opposite the hole in the fence where people who don’t want to use the main gate come and go, you turn right, into what they call the Jungle, the olive groves into which the camp has exploded, because it was meant for 3,000 people and now has 20,000. Continue along the winding path, watching out for low-slung washing lines, past the burnt-out olive tree and the tiny tent with the family who always say hello, then turn left up the steep hill that becomes a muddy slide after rain.
Most of the refugees in this camp come from Afghanistan, where the United States has been blowing up houses for 18 years now, though many more are fleeing other conflicts from Syria to Myanmar. Sam Wollastan, writing for the Guardian, visited the camp in order to find some signs of hope – to paint a different picture than the one of constant despair typically projected (a quick review of article titles about the camp at Moria showed most use the adjective “hell” as the main descriptor). He tries – and indeed, there are signs of hope in the very fact that people are trying to build a life in the camp, amidst the violence and utter lack of resources. Within the camp, people organize classes, on everything from the English and German languages to guitar. And yet, outside the camp, Greek nationalists protest their existence and demand the camp’s removal — a reminder that Trump is part of a global reactionary force. Other islanders have embraced the refugees, and provide what assistance they can — a reminder that humanity also still has a chance.
Wollastan’s article is framed around his visit to a library launched by one of the camp residents. His name is Zekria. Wollastan reaches out to him to clarify some details on the story to find that Zekria has since fled the camp:
Fearing deportation, he and his family managed to get to mainland Greece, where they are staying in a squat. “It’s cold, there is no electricity, it is the life of refugees,” he says. “I hate the fucking politics of the world.”
He has no money left and will try to find informal work, then perhaps try to cross a land border into Albania or Macedonia. The library and the school in Moria are fine, he says. The team is running them; he is in touch regularly. “I have to go,” he says. “We will speak later, my friend.”
I hate the “fucking politics” of the world too. Moria and Nuevo Laredo stand as indictment to the fictions we continue to weave about the sanctity of the state and the sacrament of nationhood. We’ve been here before.
If you would like to support the Franciscan Network on Migration, which provides shelter for migrants crossing through Mexico, we are now their fiscal sponsor. You can donate here.
Want to speak out to end the police that is keeping people trapped in Mexico? Veronica Escobar (TX-D) has introduced legislation to defund remain in Mexico and work to extend protections to asylum seekers more generally. The Asylum Seeker Protection Act (H.R. 2662) has 63 co-sponsors. Check to see if your member of Congress is one of them here. If not, call and ask them to co-sponsor the bill!
Trump seems to forget that he is president of the United States – the whole thing. Sadly, most of us are not free to forget this. In any event, Trump’s administration now seems set to go to war against large urban areas that are not cooperating sufficiently (in his mind) with his immigration crackdown.
The New York Times reported on Friday that the administration would be sending Border Patrol Tactical Units (BORTAC) to “sanctuary cities” to begin rounding up “illegal” immigrants. The scale of the operation is not so grand as the announcement – 100 agents, which will include regular CBP personnel as well as BORTAC units. It is reminiscent of Trump’s announcement last year that he would begin rounding up “millions” of immigrants, which quickly, upon fact checks, came only to several thousand people with removal orders and known addresses in 11 cities. That major operation never happened, though 143,000 immigrants were arrested last year (a decline from annual averages during Obama’s years, by the way, for those who long for “better” times). What did happen was the spread of fear throughout immigrant communities over several weeks – as people stayed close to home or did not go out at all for fear of arrest and separation from family. The fear was probably the point back then and is, no doubt, the main point now. The big guns and fancy SWAT gear help.
If one is surprised by this, a quick reminder that Immgration and Customs Enforcement was in the news last year for building training sites modelled on Chicago neighborhoods as well as communities in Arizona. The sites were for their Special Response Teams (SRT). The training sites were located at the Office of Firearms and Tactical Programs’ (OFTP) Tactical Operations Complex (TOC) at Ft. Benning (which is a huge base, where lots of things happen, but perhaps not coincidentally, where the U.S. military has trained Latin American counterparts and police to more or less undermine democracy when they get back home).
So, brace yourself for the alphabet soup of acronyms: ICE was training SRTs at the TOC of the OFTP last year, and now CBP is deploying BORTACs to work side by side with ICE’s office of ERO and possibly ICE SRTs as well.
Anyway, Sanctuary Cities are one of Trump’s favorite targets for ridicule and condemnation. As such, sanctuary cities have been the target of the administration’s fog of war (lies). Sanctuary cities are crime ridden, we were told. Not true, relatively safer – though probably not for reasons having to do with sanctuary. The administration apparently had discussions about sending people picked up at the border to sanctuary cities as retaliation. Actually, most people go to the so-called sanctuary cities anyway, once they are released, because they are some of the largest cities in the country (New York, Los Angeles, etc).
Sanctuary itself is not very well defined. Most “sanctuary” cities have refused to cooperate with some aspect of ICE enforcement operations, typically this simply means not holding people in jails beyond their scheduled release time for ICE, absent a judicial warrant. It can also mean not using city facilities for detention at all. Or in some cases, not sharing identification databases with ICE. In many cases, these sanctuary policies pre-date Trump, though one impact of Trump’s war on immigrants is to encourage more localities to identify as sanctuary jurisdictions. One of the cities on Trump’s list, Houston, is not a sanctuary city at all. While the city’s government has been generally supportive of the immigrant community here, Texas’s legislature has made “sanctuary cities” illegal in the state. If Houston is on the list for enforcement, it must be for the optics of these operations rather than retribution.
While it is possible the main point of these announced operations is to generate fear (more than actual detentions), enforcement operations will still take place. (They always do.)
As the administration has essentially blocked the border using, well, most of Mexico to do so, there has been concern that the administration will expand internal removal operations in the coming months to generate publicity for his re-election bid. He seems convinced that draconian enforcement measures are good for his re-election chances.
Which means 10 more months (at least) of grand-standing and outright lies about immigration and immigrants.
This week marks 75 years since the allied bombing of Dresden. The bombing of Dresden led to at least 25,000 civilian deaths, including many internally displaced Germans who viewed the city as safe – there were no military targets there, and it had been left alone for most of the war. Among the dead were also allied prisoners of war being held in the city. The experiences of prisoners of war during the bombing was immortalized by Kurt Vonnegut, one of the survivors, in his novel Slaughterhouse 5. So it goes.
The bombing of Dresden was part of a larger campaign of “terror bombing” aimed at German cities. Between 1943 and 1945, 600,000 civilians were killed in bombardments on German cities, attacks that were explicitly aimed at terrorizing the civilian population in order to break the will of the German people. Royal Air Force commanders were very clear about the motives.
The Dresden bombing shocked the world’s conscience. Churchill, not known for outpourings of compassion, was appalled by the savagery of the attack, calling it “an act of terror and wanton destruction.” After seeing photographs of the devastated city, the prime minister asked, “Are we beasts? Are we taking this too far?” In a top secret memo dated March 28, 1945, he wrote:
It seems to me that the moment has come when the question of bombing of German cities simply for the sake of increasing the terror, though under other pretexts, should be reviewed. Otherwise we shall come into control of an utterly ruined land.
Others defended the bombing. “Butcher” Harris acknowledged that “the destruction of so large and splendid a city at this late stage of the war was considered unnecessary even by a good many people who admit that our earlier attacks were fully justified.” However, he asserted that terror bombing would “shorten the war and preserve the lives of Allied soldiers.” Harris infamously added: “I do not personally regard the whole of the remaining cities of Germany as worth the bones of one British grenadier.”
Three weeks after the bombardment of Dresden, the United States would unleash the largest bombardment in human history on Tokyo. Over 100,000 civilians were killed in three days of “fire-bombing” in March of 1945. As with Germany, Japan was in retreat, the end of the war was coming. Indeed, by the fall of 1944, Allies had already been plotting the post-War future, penning agreements at Bretton Woods for the International Monetary Fund and the International Bank of Reconstruction and forging the United Nations at Dumbarton Oaks.
By August, with Japan seeking a peace agreement, the United States dropped bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, killing somewhere between 150,000 and 200,000 people immediately, and untold numbers in the coming years as the result of radiation poisoning. It was argued that the bombings were justified to bring about the end of the war and save allied lives. This assumes that the Allies’ demand for unconditional surrender was just, or worth any means necessary to achieve. Japan was surrendering – and Truman knew it. As Guy Alperivotz argued in Atomic Diplomacy, written in late 1965, as documents from that time were first becoming declassified, the target of the bombings was in some sense the Soviet Union, in essence a demonstration of the military strength of the United States.
Of course the nationalist regime in Japan had engaged in massive violations against civilian populations in China and elsewhere, and Nazi crimes are well known. The siege of Stalingrad alone led to the deaths of over 2 million people, civilians and combatants. Nearly 70 million civilians died in World War II.
We seem to have never looked back from this destruction. During the Korean War, the U.S. military strafed columns of refugees fleeing south to prevent communist infiltration. During the Vietnam war, U.S. bombardments of Hanoi and surrounding areas obliterated the region and led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians. The secret bombing of Cambodia created a massive refugee crisis inside the country and fomented the rise of the Khmer Rouge.
We live in the wake of this horror. The invasion of Iraq, for example, led directly to the deaths of at least 100,000 civilians, indirectly (through collapsed infrastructure, polluted water, and so on) closer to 1 million.
Elsewhere, war has proven equally deadly. From the Watson Institute’s Cost of War project:
The wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria, and Pakistan have taken a tremendous human toll on those countries. As of November 2019, 335,000 civilians in these countries have died violent deaths as a result of the wars. Civilian deaths have also resulted from the US military operations in Somalia and other countries in the U.S. war on terrorism.
People living in the war zones have been killed in their homes, in markets, and on roadways. They have been killed by bombs, bullets, fire, improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and drones. Civilians die at checkpoints, as they are run off the road by military vehicles, when they step on a mine or cluster bomb, as they collect wood or tend to their fields, and when they are kidnapped and executed for purposes of revenge or intimidation. They are killed by the United States, by its allies, and by insurgents and sectarians in the civil wars spawned by the invasions.
Death can also happen weeks or months after a battle. Many times more Iraqis, Afghans, and Pakistanis have died as a result of battered infrastructure and poor health conditions arising from the wars than directly from its violence. For example, war refugees often lose access to a stable food supply or to their jobs, resulting in increased malnutrition and vulnerability to disease.
There are 70 million people displaced by violence in the world today.
Four days ago the President submitted a budget request that would give the Pentagon $740 billion. This is roughly equal to what the rest of the world combined spends on their militaries. Congress will likely agree.
And when people come fleeing the bombs we drop with that money, we will shut the door on them.
So it goes.