Proposed child holding site in Arkansas 5 miles from WWII Japanese-American internment camp | Arkansas Blog

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Proposed child holding site in Arkansas 5 miles from WWII Japanese-American internment camp

Posted By on Thu, Jun 21, 2018 at 2:39 PM

click to enlarge ROHWER CAMP: Up the road from Kelso, just five miles and seven decades away. - ASU
  • ASU
  • ROHWER CAMP: Up the road from Kelso, just five miles and seven decades away.

THV 11 reports that the Trump administration is considering a piece of property in the unincorporated Desha County community of Kelso in its search for sites to house immigrant children forcibly separated from their parents at the border. Kelso is about a five-minute drive away from the Rohwer internment camp at which over 8,000 Japanese-Americans — many of them children — were held captive by their own government during World War II.

Max noted this morning that Governor Hutchinson acknowledged an unnamed location in Arkansas was being considered as a second possible detention facility for immigrant children; the federal Department of Health and Human Services, which handles foster care for immigrant kids, previously identified the Little Rock Air Force Base as one possible holding site.

An HHS spokesperson, Carla Daniels, confirmed by email that the department was assessing a piece of "unused federal property" in Kelso associated with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. (The USDA previously leased land in Kelso to the Southeast Research and Extension Center–Rohwer Division; that site is five miles from the old Rowher camp, according to Google maps.)

Daniels emphasized that the Kelso USDA site was being reviewed for use as a shelter for children, not detaining entire family units. "HHS is legally mandated with the care of unaccompanied alien children and operates shelters," she wrote. (That's one big difference between internment at the Rohwer camp and today: The parents kept at Rohwer in World War II typically weren't separated from their children.)

Update, 3:40 p.m.: U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford, whose district includes Desha County, said in a tweet that the USDA site in Kelso was a "fish experiment station" and appeared skeptical of HHS' consideration of the property:


This would be a good time to flip through some images of the barracks and guard towers from Rohwer or visit the Japanese-American internment museum in McGehee that memorializes the incarceration of families for no crime other than their own ethnicity. I've been to the Rohwer site, which now consists of little more than a cemetery, a smokestack from an old hospital, and a walking trail narrated by George Takei, who was interned at Rohwer with his family. The museum, though, contains a wealth of information, including first-hand diary accounts of the daily humiliations of imprisonment and newspaper clips documenting Arkansas politicians railing against the presence of "Japs" in the state.

One of the lines repeated by Trump administration apologists today is that the immigrant children taken away from their parents are being treated relatively well while they're confined — that they're sleeping in clean beds and are eating decent food and are being kept from physical harm. They have it better than some American kids, they say. Remember that the same was said about the Japanese-Americans imprisoned in the Arkansas Delta in the 1940s, when destitute Desha County sharecroppers jealously eyed the electric lights at Rohwer camp. Then, as now, wealthy demagogues used the poverty and deprivation of their fellow American citizens as a wedge and a bludgeon. But a prison is a prison, no matter how well-kept it is.

Here's the full email from the HHS spokesperson:
At the request of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and with the support of the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) – HHS will be visiting unused Federal property in Arkansas for potential future use as temporary shelter for unaccompanied alien children (UAC).

A site assessment will be conducted at:

· USDA Kelso Works 1, Kelso, AR

A preliminary site visit will be conducted at:

· Little Rock Air Force Base, Little Rock, AR

The USDA property will be assessed to determine the site’s suitable for HHS to temporarily provide shelter for unaccompanied alien children (UAC) at some point in the future. The DoD property will be visited to determine if a more detailed assessment is warranted. USDA and DoD officials will join the HHS staff as they tour the vacant properties. HHS will make the determination if it will use either of the two sites for UAC operations. HHS will continue to keep local and congressional officials informed during this assessment and selection process.

I’d also like to clarify that our notification was for UAC shelter not family detention. ORR/HHS is legally mandated with the care of unaccompanied alien children and operates shelters. 

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