It’s happening. Again. In front of our own eyes.
Families carted away by government order to concentration camps, under the false flag of national security.
More than 80 islanders gathered last Friday for a “Lights for Liberty” candlelight vigil at Seabold United Methodist Church to highlight the humanitarian crisis and the United State’s southern border and to call for an end to human detention camps.
The Seabold vigil to protest the inhumane treatment of migrants and the squalid condition of the camps was one of more than 700 held across the country July 12. Another vigil was held in Winslow on Bainbridge Island, joining others from Bremerton to Port Angeles, Seattle to Pullman, and Vancouver to Bellingham.
At Seabold Church, many recalled Bainbridge’s own dark place where residents were forcibly removed and taken to concentration camps; the roundup of more than 270 citizens of Japanese ancestry after the attacks on Pearl Harbor.
Lilly Kitamoto Kadoma, who was a 7-year-old second-grader when her family was taken from Bainbridge and sent to Manzanar Internment Camp in California, told the packed church at Seabold of the 110,000 people who were pulled from their homes in Washington, Oregon, California and Arizona.
“The Bainbridge Island people were the very first to be taken away,” she said, adding that her family was kept at Manzanar for the duration of the war.
A permanent reminder of the day Bainbridge’s own were taken from the island, the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial, sits near the Eagledale ferry dock where Army soldiers put the evacuees on a ferry to Seattle on March 30, 1942 at the start of their journey to the camps. Kadoma recalled theme of the memorial: Nidoto Nai Yoni.
“Which means, ‘Let it not happen again,’” she said. “Let it not happen again — is today.”
Sally Tellekson, executive director of the Kitsap Immigration Assistance Center, said the border crisis has impacted immigrant families across Kitsap County. The center, which provides services that include medical and dental care, a clothing closet, household goods giveaway, language and citizenship classes, as well as assistance for pregnant women and new mothers, serves clients from more than 50 countries in Kitsap, Clallam, Mason and Jefferson counties.
Bremerton, where the Kitsap Immigration Assistance Center is based, is 1,700 miles form El Paso, but the impacts are huge for Kitsap immigrants, she said.
“Families are being torn apart,” Tellekson said. “They are coming here to make better lives; they are getting separated at the border. We know what the conditions are; there is overcrowding in the detention centers, it’s cold. There’s no blankets, there’s no soap, there’s no toothpaste.
“Kids are sleeping on concrete. There is no medical care,” she said.
The death toll at the camps continues to rise.
“Seven children have died in custody. Two dozen adults have died,” she said. “Take a moment and let that sink in.”
What’s going on at the border, she said, is “calculated chaos.”
“They can’t get things through Congress, and they can’t get things past the court,” Tellekson said of the Trump administration. Instead, it’s a continuing shift of policies from one day to the next using “policies that terrorize people.”
“They create turmoil. And what we have to do is respond,” she said.
Tellekson noted that there are 6 million children who are U.S. citizens who are living in households with an undocumented family member. Those children are also at risk of family separation.
There’s fear among Kitsap immigrants over raids by agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), she added.
“The ripple effect of that terror is hard to imagine,” she said, and some families wonder whether if a father will return home from work each night.
She told the story of an immigrant mother of four who went to court to pay traffic fines. When the woman got to court, she was told she had missed a court date and there was a warrant for her arrest.
“She was told she could pay a bond, but she wasn’t able to raise the money,” Tellekson recalled.
The woman turned herself in, spending a month in county jail before being turned over to ICE and taken to the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma.
“Now she’s in removal proceedings,” Tellekson said.
It was just the latest heartbreaking case. As the center worked on her case, they found drawings and a letter from her small kids wishing her a happy Mother’s Day.
With assistance from the center, they were able to get a judge to drop the woman’s bond from $6,000 to the lowest possible — $1,500 — and the woman’s church community paid her bond so she could be released on bail.
“And later that afternoon, our client was on her way back home to see her kids for the first time in four months. We have a lot of stories like that, actually,” Tellekson said. “But then, we have a lot of stories that aren’t quite so happy.”
Tellekson said it was easy to become hopeless about the border crisis.
“It’s really tempting now to turn away. As things get worse, it’s getting more tempting to turn away.”
Instead, Tellekson asked people to get involved, and to help the center if they could. She asked for volunteers, those who know of available affordable housing, or people who can host an event to raise awareness, as well as donations.
“Most of all, keep your hearts open — and hold away despair,” she said.
Val Tollefson, president of the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial Association, asked the audience to send a unified message to their elected representatives.
“We demand that our country live up to its claim as a bastion of freedom and human dignity,” Tollefson said. “Bainbridge Island is a community that cares. When Lilly and our other fellow islanders were sent away in 1942, they were not forgotten.”
He recalled Walt and Millie Woodward of the Bainbridge Review, and how the little newspaper used its “outsized power” to rail against the injustice while providing steady news about those who had been taken away. Islanders preserved the properties of their friends, and some chose to return after the war, where they were welcomed home.
“Thank you for being here and standing up for what is right. It’s a start. Please keep the pressure on,” he said.
Write those in power, including the president, Tollefson said.