Posts Tagged ‘War Relocation Authority’
“The bosom of America is open to receive not only the Opulent and respectable Stranger, but the oppressed and persecuted of all Nations And Religions”*…
Tom Kiefer was a Customs and Border Protection janitor for almost four years before he took a good look inside the trash. Every day at work—at the C.B.P. processing center in Ajo, Arizona, less than fifty miles from the border with Mexico—he would throw away bags full of items confiscated from undocumented migrants apprehended in the desert. One day in 2007, he was rummaging through these bags looking for packaged food, which he’d received permission to donate to a local pantry. In the process, he also noticed toothbrushes, rosaries, pocket Bibles, water bottles, keys, shoelaces, razors, mix CDs, condoms, contraceptive pills, sunglasses, keys: a vibrant, startling testament to the lives of those who had been detained or deported. Without telling anyone, Kiefer began collecting the items, stashing them in sorted piles in the garages of friends. “I didn’t know what I was going to do,” he told me recently. “But I knew there was something to be done.”
Kiefer, who is now fifty-eight, had moved to Ajo from Los Angeles, in 2001, hoping to simplify his life, purchase a home, and focus on his passion: taking pictures. (Previously, he’d been a collector and dealer of antique cast-iron bed frames, and, before that, a graphic designer.) He took the C.B.P. job, in 2003, for purely practical reasons: it paid ten dollars and forty-two cents an hour, and it seemed unlikely to steal mental space away from his photography projects. Now he began photographing his C.B.P. collection in his studio, arranging and rearranging items, sometimes putting a single stuffed animal or T-shirt in the frame, more often capturing like with like: dozens of roll-on deodorant sticks, hundreds of nail clippers. Today, he has taken hundreds of photographs of objects he brought home from the processing center. Together they make up “El Sueño Americano” (“The American Dream”), an ongoing project that, thanks to its unconventional perspective on U.S. migrant policies, has launched Kiefer into a photography career he’s dreamed of for decades…
The extraordinary story in full at: “A janitor preserves the seized belongings of migrants.”
* George Washington
As we put out the mat, we might recall that it was on this date in 1942 that an executive order from President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the War Relocation Authority (WRA), a United States government agency established to handle the internment, i.e. forced relocation and detention, of Japanese-Americans during World War II. The WRA operated 10 camps, mostly on tribal land, that ultimately “housed” 110-120,000 people.
The program was initially headed by Milton Eisenhower, younger brother of Dwight and a New Deal stalwart who had opposed relocation. Eisenhower did his best to limit the program and to protect the property and rights of those interned. But his efforts were largely thwarted. He was replaced after only 6 months on the job by Dillon S. Myer, who ran the WRA until its dissolution at the end of the war.
In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed into law the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which apologized for the internment on behalf of the U.S. government and authorized a payment of $20,000 (equivalent to $41,000 in 2016) to each camp survivor. The legislation admitted that government actions were based on “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.” The U.S. government eventually disbursed more than $1.6 billion (equivalent to $3,240,000,000 in 2016) in reparations to 82,219 Japanese Americans who had been interned and to their heirs.