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story.lead_photo.caption During World War II Richard Yada's family was imprisoned at a Japanese internment camp in Rohwer, Arkansas. Richard Yada was born there. ( John Sykes Jr.)

Richard Yada visits the Desha County land where he was confined as a child so frequently that he notices when the crops change.

For the past couple of seasons, cotton surrounded the Rohwer internment camp cemetery. Before that, it was corn, Yada said.

The 74-year-old retired accountant and financial adviser lives in Little Rock. He often takes friends and relatives to see the Rohwer cemetery and smokestack, two relics of a compound where thousands of people of Japanese descent were detained during World War II.

Now, the idea that Rohwer land might again be used to detain children who cross the southern U.S. border is "kind of ironic," Yada said.

He spent the first three years of his life at Rohwer. Yada remembers the cots, the lone light bulb in each room, the potbellied stove and the lack of privacy.

"Being 2 or 3 years old, you thought everybody grew up that way," Yada said. "You didn't know any better."

Last week, federal officials visited two Arkansas sites to determine whether they're suitable to temporarily house minors who have crossed into the U.S. from Mexico unaccompanied by parents or legal guardians. No decision was released.

Generally, such unaccompanied children are temporarily housed in U.S. Department of Health and Human Services shelters until they are released to relatives or other care providers while they await their immigration proceedings.

Space is needed for some 20,000 unaccompanied children in the coming months, the Pentagon announced last week. Many of the children are under age 12 or in their early or midteens and journeyed from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, according to government data.

The Little Rock Air Force Base in Jacksonville is one Arkansas site under consideration to house them. The other location is a former U.S. Department of Agriculture facility in Kelso, also in Desha County. It sits on what used to be the Rohwer camp land, according to a business agent with knowledge of the land sale.

The unincorporated communities of Rohwer and Kelso are just a few miles apart.

The physical link between the past and the present has drawn national attention and triggered additional criticism about the Trump administration's immigration policies.

Actor, director and activist George Takei, who was detained in Rohwer as a child, said on Twitter that he had "no words" after hearing the latest news.

Days previously, former first lady Laura Bush wrote an op-ed piece for The Washington Post in which she criticized the practice of separating parents from their children after they crossed into the U.S. Trump later walked back that policy.

Images of children living in tents and converted big-box stores are "eerily reminiscent" of Japanese internment, which is now considered "one of the most shameful episodes in U.S. history," she wrote.

For some people and their relatives who were interned at the camps, what's happening now looks all too familiar, they said.

Sharon Wong was born in the Jerome camp that straddled the Drew and Chicot county line. Together, Rohwer and Jerome held some 16,000 people between 1942 and 1945.

[U.S. immigration: Data visualization of selected immigration statistics, U.S. border map]

When told that unaccompanied children might be kept on Rohwer land, Wong asked, "How could that be?"

To hear the government is considering "anything even near those places, it's hard to believe," she said. It's "disturbing," she added.

"I didn't think that it would happen again in my lifetime," retired professor and child therapist Satsuki Ina said. "It has triggered so many emotions."

Like Wong, Ina lives in California. She was born in the Japanese internment camp called Tule Lake.

Survivors refer to such camps as prison camps or concentration camps, Ina explained. That's because an "internment camp" is a place to detain "enemy aliens" in a time of war, she said. The 120,000 people who were detained were not enemy aliens. About two-thirds were American citizens.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson, U.S. Rep. French Hill and U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, all Arkansas Republicans, have issued statements against holding the unaccompanied children in Arkansas, which Ina said is encouraging. She's also grateful that many Japanese-Americans are speaking out because "when we were being rounded up and stigmatized, there was no organized protest," she said.

Some people say juxtaposing the two eras is "comparing apples to oranges," Kimiko Marr said. Marr organizes pilgrimages to Rohwer and Jerome. Her mother and grandmother were detained in a camp in Topaz, Utah.

"I will agree that it's clearly not the exact same circumstance," she said. People crossing the southern U.S. border are not American citizens, but the bottom line should be "they are human beings," Marr said.

For University of Arkansas at Little Rock professor Johanna Miller Lewis, some of the historical similarities are unmissable.

Corralling large groups of people, placing them behind barbed wire or in cages and shelters, and guarding them with military troops or customs and border patrol agents are the consistent themes, Lewis said.

In both cases, "We have all these people. We're not quite sure what we're going to do with them. So we've got to find a place to put them," Lewis said.

There are some differences, Lewis added. Japanese-Americans were given no route to due process and were never charged with any crime, she said. And most parents and children weren't separated from one another, she said.

But as a public historian who has studied detainment camps for two decades, the parallels "are just so strong," Lewis said.

Like Lewis, David Inoue, the executive director of the Japanese American Citizens League, sees a common thread. Right now, like during World War II, there's "hatred and vitriol" from some people toward anyone who looks like an outsider, Inoue said.

For Kerry Yo Nakagawa's family, that hatred once appeared on a slip of paper.

Nakagawa's maternal grandmother was a proud business owner who believed America was "the greatest country in the world," he said in an email.

She was forced to abandon a thriving restaurant in Fresno, Calif., and board a train to Jerome, Nakagawa said. While at the camp, she died of cancer, and her body was shipped out to be cremated.

A few months later, her ashes arrived in a Folgers coffee can. On top of the can was a piece of paper. It read, "Jap Woman," Nakagawa said.

If his grandmother knew about what was happening now, Nakagawa said, "She would be deflated."

Photo by © Paul Faris/Courtesy of Mary Ann Thurmond and Tim Faris
A child cries at the Rohwer War Relocation Center in July 1945 in this photo taken by Paul Faris, Hendrix College photography and English teacher.

Metro on 06/24/2018

Print Headline: Camps for border's kids harken to state '40s past


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Archived Comments

  • jw91356
    June 24, 2018 at 11:52 a.m.

    I wish I could change the situation that happened to Mr Yoda but I can’t.
    By the way we were at WAR with JAPAN!
    Today we are at war with a different kind of assault on our country. ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION!!
    We can not allow anyone to just walk in without going thru proper channels.
    That is if you still want to keep your life style. So please people turn off CLINTON NEWS NETWORK and pull your head out and look around your home. If yo like what you see then help us get rid of CAREER POLITICIANS And the bleeding heart liberals in Washington.
    Let the president do his job that I helped elect him to do.

  • mrcharles
    June 24, 2018 at 2:57 p.m.

    What was wrong then can be wrong. Those who went through it may have a standing to be listened to , whether you like it or not. Trump did two things, pardon Jack Johnson [ why , well the Ilks today who have come into power are the types who created the atrocity directed to him]. and said what Obama could have never said and probably lived, USA is not so innocent- no need to point out the instances as there is no need to be like the pope who in 2000 apologized for centuries of inhumanity to their fellow creations.

    To be so wrong again may be the mantra of the haters, the hypocrites and trumpette's/gop red state types, but history looking back should show the errors of the ways of mere mammals.

    I am thankful for the support of many of the celestial decoder systems leaders in opposition to have concentration camps established by the USA in the 2nd decade of the 21st century. This should give pause to many of their followers who also support without question the divinity and pronouncements of the trump.

    Perhaps I am not wrong to say to some versions of those divine systems supporters , When you stand before your Deity , what was convenient during this time will not suffice to justice and mercy... but if justice and mercy mean nothing, then keep on doubling down to who St Saul said was the deity of this world.

    How much does the USA spend yearly on dog and cat food, waste in the military?

    Shame, eternal shame!

  • richardyada
    June 24, 2018 at 5:30 p.m.

    To Mr. jw91356. I wish you could change the situation that happened to Mr YODA also Mr . jw91356. First I think you have watched too many Star War movies, Yoda was a character in the movies and the article refers to Mr. Yada. (a person name is there most important possession). Also , what does being at War with Japan have to do with putting me in prison without charge, without trial, without due process? My grandparents, my parents and I were all US citizens just like you. This type of thought process caused the incarceration in a concentration camp problem. Until people quit thinking in those terms the problems will continue I understand you meant no harm in this conversation, but your comment "we were at War with Japan, should have no significance in throwing my ass in jail. If we have laws that says you cannot come in to the USA without the proper paper work and process, then if you still come in, I think you might be an illegal immigrant.

  • carpenterretired
    June 24, 2018 at 10:34 p.m.

    Sounds like one fellow needs to turn off Fox News long enough to read the Gospel of Matthew , but he may be beyond pulling his own head out.

  • CartoonDude
    June 25, 2018 at 7:16 a.m.

    For goodness' sake, what does this man think we should do with unaccompanied kids entering our country? Put them out on the street? This is America: We take care of kids who enter unaccompanied.

  • mrcharles
    June 25, 2018 at 10:02 a.m.

    Jap woman, perhaps an ancestor of trump's supporters wrote that piece of paper. While true, certainly done with disregard for a human being. Carpenter, perhaps that is why it is also written, not all who say lord, lord will get their reward [ but it does imply they will have a reward of such-- I believe, which makes it true, than many of the repugnants will be those who tertillium will look down upon.

    Would say more but have to go the tower of babel you can see off I-430 in West Little Rock, another man made expensive mountain to preach the gospel of Jesus and of course do the work of the lord with coffee, or as Uncle Joe says a cozy place to discuss the number of angels who can dance on the head of a pin.

  • jig49
    June 25, 2018 at 12:59 p.m.

    Do you notice how easily some will almost gleefully offer any excuse for the traumatic mistreatment of others? I may not have the answer to our most disturbing delimahs, but all things are worthy of applying a little human compassion, whilst we ponder those great questions! Concentration-like camps don't seem to be appropriate for our immigration problems. Most of us just don't have the moral appetite for that sort thing anymore.

  • DonnaJordan
    June 25, 2018 at 9:38 p.m.

    I want to know if theae people have been checked for diseases we have been vaccinated for and have they been vaccinated since being in USA ? If they aew moving them all over the US they are a danger to our kids . I am for anyone coming here for a better life legally . But i am afraid these people coming in illegally will cause outbreaks all over the country. Possibly of things we have not be vaccinated for because it is something from there country we dont have or never been exposed to? Am i the only one concerned about this in Arkansas with kids possibly coming here?

  • DonnaJordan
    June 25, 2018 at 9:40 p.m.

    I want to know if these people have been checked for disease, we have been vaccinated for and have they been vaccinated since being in USA ? If they are moving them all over the US they are a danger to our kids . I am for anyone coming here for a better life legally . But i am afraid these people coming in illegally will cause outbreaks all over the country. Possibly of things we have not be vaccinated for because it is something from there country we dont have or never been exposed to? Am i the only one concerned about this in Arkansas with kids possibly coming here?