Activists Confront CEO's "Disgusting" Use of Family's History at WWII Incarceration Camps to Justify Propping Up ICE's Migrant Detention

At a Japanese American-led direct action Monday, immigrant rights activists attempted to confront CEO Jenni Nakamoto over her company's contract with ICE, which they say represents a particular affront to human rights given her family's history at internment camps during World War II. (Image: Tsuru for Solidarity/18 Million Rising)

Activists Confront CEO's "Disgusting" Use of Family's History at WWII Incarceration Camps to Justify Propping Up ICE's Migrant Detention

Japanese-American activists and their allies accused Jenni Nakamoto of turning "her back on her community and history."

"You need to leave," immigrant rights activists were repeatedly told Monday as they attempted to confront one of the contractors Immigration and Customs Enforcement hired to inspect its migration detention centers.

The demonstration at the headquarters of the Nakamoto Group targeted the company's president and owner Jenni Nakamoto, who the activists say has perverted her own family's history at Japanese-Americans internment camps to justify her work.

"The way she has used our history is disgusting," Lauren Sumida from the advocacy group Tsuru for Solidarity said of Nakamoto as Sumida attempted to leave 200 paper cranes, each of which was inscribed with the name of someone who died in ICE custody, at the company headquarters in Jefferson, Maryland.

The Japanese-American activists and their allies say the company is complicit in the mass incarceration of immigrants.

Sumida was joined in the direct action by Tsuru's Linda Morris, who referenced Nakamoto's September testimony (pdf) before Congress on oversight of ICE facilities in which Nakamoto said that her grandparents were incarcerated in a Japanese internment camp in Arizona during WWII.

Sumida and Morris were joined in the direct action by representatives of the group Sanctuary DMV. In addition to the paper cranes, or "tsuru," the activists attempted to leave nearly 8,000 petitions they gathered with Asian American advocacy group 18 Million Rising demanding Nakamoto end its ICE contract.

Nakamoto was not present, and two representatives of the company who spoke to the activists refused to take either the petitions or the cranes.

Sumida, speaking in the lobby of the company's office, said the group "wanted this space... to speak on behalf of our community from what happened to us and our families during WWII--being incarcerated in the Japanase American camps, forced out of their homes, their businesses."

Human Rights Watch researcher Grace Meng noted in a blog post Monday:

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) contracts with the Nakamoto Group to inspect facilities holding ICE detainees for more than 72 hours. But facilities with serious deficiencies have passed Nakamoto inspections year after year, including both before and after deaths that occurred following severely inadequate medical care.

That history helped Nakamota "become a lightning rod for criticism," as NPRreported in July.

The Department of Homeland Security's Inspector General has repeatedly criticized the company for cutting corners on its investigations, conducting improper interviews, and producing inaccurate reports. In one instance, the government watchdog said ICE failed to take seriously the problem of braided bed sheets hanging in detainee cells. It said similar braided sheets had been used as a noose in one suicide and in several other attempts.

For many critics, Nakamoto's failures cited in the government reports help explain why unsanitary, harsh conditions at the detention centers persist.

That track record--as well as Nakamoto's failure to harness her family's history of trauma as a catalyst for empathy--is fueling the activists' call for action.

In a petition hosted at the 18 Million Rising website, the Japan American activists and their allies accuse Nakamoto of turning "her back on her community and history."

The petition lists a number of demands, including for Nakamoto to end the ICE contracts, meet with impacted communities , donate profits from the prison inspections to the Detention Watch Network, and "Write a public apology for her twisted use of Japanese American history to defend her complicity."

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