Open Letter: Stop Repeating History and Release Immigrants Detained at NWDC

On March 27th, Japanese Americans across the country are joining frontline communities in urging Washington State Governor Jay Inslee to immediately release all immigrants from the Northwest Detention Center to prevent the spread of COVID-19. We know that health and safety are impossible to guarantee inside detention, because our families faced epidemics and medical neglect during WWII incarceration. Together, we say “STOP REPEATING HISTORY,” close the camps, and keep everyone, including immigrants, safe during this pandemic.

We’re sending the following letter to Governor Inslee, along with our friends at Tsuru for Solidarity, Seattle JACL, the Minidoka Pilgrimage Planning Committee, and the Nikkei Student Union at University of Washington. We encourage you to send your own message via phone, email, and social media. Check out Tsuru for Solidarity’s #FreeThemAll organizing toolkit to learn more, and make a pledge to join La Resistencia in upcoming actions.

Dear Governor Jay Inslee,

We write to you as Japanese Americans who are deeply concerned about the health and safety of Washington residents confined in the Northwest Detention Center. Earlier this week, you ordered Washington residents to shelter in place and avoid physical contact to slow the spread of COVID-19 in our state. This is not possible for people inside NWDC.

As survivors and descendants of Japanese American incarceration, our community knows the devastating impacts of mass detention. This pandemic makes contemporary detention sites like NWDC exponentially more dangerous — which is why we urge you to take immediate action so people do not die on your watch.

We know from our own history that detention facilities are breeding grounds for the spread of disease and infection. When our families were imprisoned in U.S. concentration camps during WWII, they were exposed to outbreaks of polio, dysentery, mumps, measles, valley fever, and chicken pox, to name just a few. Inadequate medical supplies and staff only exacerbated these problems, and made them even more deadly for those afflicted.

The first grave at the Manzanar cemetery, of a 62 year old man who died of heart disease on May 16, 1942. He had been ill since he first arrived in Manzanar, and spent his final weeks confined in the camp hospital. Photo by Dorothea Lange, courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

Imprisoning individuals in such conditions was inhumane then, and it is inhumane now. This pandemic places individuals who should never have been detained in the first place at an unconscionably high risk of contracting COVID-19. Continuing to confine vulnerable people in these conditions is reckless, irresponsible, and cruel.

We therefore call on you to use your emergency powers under RCW 43.06.220 and protect the lives of Washington residents: Release the people detained at NWDC and halt deportations to prevent this deadly virus from spreading.

“Never Again” is now — and so is the time to act.

Sincerely,

Densho

Japanese American Citizens League, Seattle chapter

Minidoka Pilgrimage Planning Committee

Nikkei Student Union at University of Washington

Tsuru for Solidarity

Additional Resources:

[Header photo: Original caption: “Manzanar Relocation Center, Manzanar, California. Women’s ward in the temporary barracks hospital at this War Relocation Authority Center for evacuees of Japanese ancestry. The new hospital with accommodations for 250 beds is almost ready for occupancy.” July 3, 1942. Photo by Dorothea Lange, courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.]

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