- Alexa Ace
- Serena Prammanasudh is the executive director of Dream Action Oklahoma, a nonprofit organization that advocates and provides resources for immigrants.
Immigration activists will meet in Lawton on Saturday to demand closures of camps where immigrant children and families are detained. Dream Action Oklahoma (DAOK) is hosting the event in conjunction with organizations such as Oklahoma Call for Reproductive Justice (OCRJ), American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Oklahoma and Black Lives Matter Oklahoma.
“The overall purpose is to show unification in the state of Oklahoma,” said Brenda Lozano, DAOK special projects and program management director. “Our overall message is to end concentration camps. We’re hosting the event in solidarity with other organizations. We don’t want to push for a narrative that this is just another instance of history repeating itself, but more so that history hasn’t stopped. These actions haven’t stopped. Incarceration of people of color hasn’t stopped.”
10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday
2999 NW Sheridan Road, Lawton
Attendees will meet 8 a.m. Saturday at 3000 United Founders Blvd. Breakfast will be provided and buses will leave at 8:45 a.m. for Fort Sill. In Lawton, they will meet around 10 a.m. at 2999 NW Sheridan Road.
The event comes amid reports of the number of families and children entering the country from the U.S.-Mexico border surging above 100,000, according to Associated Press. It is also a response to news that Fort Sill is set to become an emergency detention center to hold about 1,400 children; no date has been announced on when that will happen.
Fort Sill most recently held unaccompanied immigrant children in 2014 under former president Barack Obama. It has also been a relocation camp for Native Americans, a boarding school for Native American children separated from their families and an internment camp for Japanese American men in 1942.
- Alexa Ace
- Brenda Lozano, a member of Dream Action Oklahoma, said the United States has a long history of detaining minority communities.
“What we want to do is use the border as a rallying call because it has so much attention, but it’s more about bringing awareness that people are detained in our neighborhoods,” Prammanasudh said. “They’re being dragged out of work or their homes or their vehicles while they’re waiting for their children to come out of school, and they’re being put into detention centers here or the county jail and being funneled into the pipeline. I mean, it’s happening in our neighborhoods to our own neighbors.”
Detained asylum-seekers in Oklahoma are placed either in David L. Moss Criminal Justice Center in Tulsa County Jail, Okmulgee County Jail or Garvin County Detention Center in Pauls Valley.
“There’s local collaboration with these local detention centers. People don’t understand that that’s a huge way that people get into the system,” Prammanasudh said. “ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) does not have a huge capacity in Oklahoma. [Its closest office] is out of Dallas; we’re included in their region. ICE doesn’t knock on all the people’s doors who are being incarcerated right now — it’s local law enforcement as well. As much as they may not want to admit it or even realize it, they are indirectly contributing.”
OCRJ co-executive director Priya Desai said various organizations taking the lead from DAOK are pooling resources to make the event as impactful as possible.
“What’s happening right now is unconscionable, and so we wanted to take a strong stance in support of that community,” she said. “[DAOK] is doing a really good job of pulling people out of their silos and making sure that we’re working together for this large goal that we have, trying to get a lot of people. I would be absolutely floored, in a good way, if we reached 500-plus people that come to this rally. … What’s happening right now is not just at the border but it’s in our towns, in our cities, so this event is an opportunity for everyone to unabashedly show that they don’t condone what’s been happening.”
- Alexa Ace
- Priya Desai, co-executive director of Oklahoma Call for Reproductive Justice, said the detention centers are modern-day concentration camps fueled by white supremacy.
Organizers of the Lawton rally have also received some backlash for naming the event Close the Concentration Camps, but Desai, Prammanasudh and Lozano stand by the term.
“I feel like the term ‘concentration camp’ is very appropriate because we’re doing exactly what they were doing back then; we’re separating families and we’re causing all this trauma and pain that doesn’t need to happen,” Desai said. “I feel like we’re at a point in history where if we don’t call it what it is, then we are denying what has happened and what we are doing right now.”
In an Esquire article, Andrea Pitzer, author of One Long Night: A Global History of Concentration Camps, argued that the U.S. is operating a “concentration camp system.” In the book, she defines those camps as “mass detention of civilians without trial.”
Waitman Wade Beorn, a Holocaust and genocide studies historian at University of Virginia, told Esquire that concentration camps at a basic level are designed “to separate one group of people from another group,” usually “because the majority group, or the creators of the camp, deem the people they’re putting in it to be dangerous or undesirable in some way.”
However, both Jewish Community Relations Council of New York and U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum have stated their rejection of efforts to equate current detention centers with Nazi-era camps.
“I’ve seen [the debate] on my social media feed and people say its inappropriate, and I’m just like, ‘Well, if we did a side-by-side comparison, it’s not going to be exactly the same, but the idea that fueled that is the same,’” Desai said. “It’s this idea of white nationalism and white supremacy under the guise of patriotism.”
Several Fort Sill protests have taken place since it was announced children would be held there. Last month, Japanese American World War II camp survivors gathered at the gates to “protest the repetition of history,” even using the term “concentration camp.”
Dream Action Oklahoma, an all-volunteer nonprofit organization, aims to empower the local immigrant community through advocacy and education. It provides resources like Know Your Rights presentations and advocates for immigrant justice.