Civil rightsOpinion

BIDLACK | Reminders of Colo.’s Camp Amache in border separations

Author: Hal Bidlack - June 22, 2018 - Updated: June 21, 2018

Japanese-American evacuees with their belongings in front of a railway car on August 30, 1942, on the way to Camp Amache, the Granada Relocation Center, in southeastern Colorado. (U.S. War Relocation Authority photo, public domain)

It was windy the day I walked among the ruins, but it’s almost always windy there. Row after row of foundations – all that remains of the hundreds of buildings that once stood on over 600 acres of high plains Colorado east of Lamar.

The Granada War Relocation Center – better known as Camp Amache – once imprisoned 10,000 Americans. These citizens were guilty of nothing more than looking different from what 1942 America thought Americans ought to look like. We as a nation did not lock up German-Americans or Italian-Americans, but we did intern Japanese-Americans by the thousands.

That shame, that blemish on our history, arrived in our beautiful Colorado on an August day in 1942 when the camp opened, and hundreds of dislocated Americans were placed inside a barbed-wire fence and under the gaze of eight watchtowers equipped with machine guns.

On another August day 75 years later, I found myself alone among the foundations, walking through our history and into a wind that nearly always blows on that remote hilltop. A lone building remains, a reconstruction to show visitors what these Americans once faced. A water tower and a single guard tower also stand vigil over what stands as one of our nation’s most shameful episodes.

The winds seem to whisper, “never again.”

A few weeks ago, former House Speaker John Boehner lamented the end of what he called the Republican Party he knew. He said, “there is no Republican Party. There’s a Trump Party… The Republican Party is kind of taking a nap somewhere.”

Mr. Boehner is no liberal, fake media, heart on his sleeve, leftie. Rather, he is a life-long Republican who rose to the most important legislative position in our government. And yet he worries about the path of his party as it finds itself tied to a president who seems unmoored from any moral code.

Which is how we found ourselves learning about Mr. Trump’s decision to order children to be taken from their parents if those parents are deemed to have illegally come into the United States.

Now, there have been quite a few lies told about this situation, and frankly, more hyperbole that is helpful, but some things are very clear. And the Trump White House has been doing nearly all the lying.

First off, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, among others, has been touting the alleged fact (alternate fact?) that Mr. Trump has only been following the precedents set by former presidents Bush and Obama, in terms of separating kids from parents. And like a few of Mr. Trump’s lies, there is a tiny bit of truth in there to make things a bit murky.

Yes, it is true that both former presidents did oversee occasional family breakups. But these were only in cases where there appeared to be a danger to the children from the parents, such as violent offenders or drug runners. Former officials have stated that such separations happened roughly every six months or so. Hardly what we see happening now.

Next, Mr. Trump claims that he must follow the law, strongly implying that the law says kids must be taken away from their parents. Again, a bit of truth, but only in the case of violent felons. Guess what? Crossing the border illegally is a misdemeanor. Should children be taken away from parents who commit misdemeanors? Parking tickets?

Oh, and while we’re at it, a number of those people who lost their kids did not cross illegally. Rather, they presented themselves at the border asking for asylum. That is not crossing the border illegally. These are, by and large, people fleeing horrible violence at home. They came looking for a better life, and we took their kids.

On Wednesday, Mr. Trump – who had previously claimed U.S. law forced him to take the kids – decided that he had been wrong (lying?) the whole time, and issued an order saying to not break up families. So which was it, Sir? Were you lying or are you now breaking the law? We’ll see how quickly you reunite families and if you truly stop seizing babies.

The winds that blow at Amache are the voice of a cautionary tale of where we can end up when we forget who we are as a nation. The cries of “never again” are now drowned out by the cries of little children. We’ve built tent cities to house these children. Think about that sentence and think about what this country is supposed to stand for.

The winds still blow at Amache, but now it is the sound of tears.

Hal Bidlack

Hal Bidlack

Hal Bidlack is a retired professor of political science and a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who taught more than 17 years at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.