Borderlands: Racism and Internment Camps – Then and Now



by Tracy Hughes

CPTer Tracy Hughes works for BorderLinks, a Tucson-based bi-national non-profit organization that hosts experiential education delegations to communities along the Arizona USA/Sonora Mexico border.  For information on CPT’s past Borderlands work, see

 My colleagues and I went to Phoenix to join hundreds of concerned citizens protesting SB1070, the unjust and racist immigration legislation signed into law by Governor Jan Brewer.  I held a sign which read “I WILL NOT COMPLY” to state clearly that I will not turn in my neighbor or anyone else I encounter who might be undocumented.

The impact of this legislation on the Hispanic community in Arizona is enormous.  Racial profiling is already a big problem here and this legislation will heighten the tension and fear, especially here in Tucson after 800 ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) agents raided South Tucson in early April – some wearing ski masks, all armed.

Returning to Tucson, we stopped to fill up at a lonely gas station and argued over whether the building across the road was a church.  We drove over, read the plaques, and realized we had stumbled across an old WWII Japanese Internment Camp on the Gila River Indian Reservation.

We drove around through orange and pecan orchards in the desolate desert and found a monument on a hill.  Over 13,000 Japanese Americans were held captive in the camp.  Back in the mid to late 1940s, the camp was the fourth largest city in Arizona!

I had learned about these camps years ago but never thought of them in a concrete way until today.  I wonder how many migrants are incarcerated today in the detention centers and prisons throughout Arizona, and how many cities they would fill.  Maybe the Japanese Internment Camps are not so much a part of the past, but rather the here-and-now in the form of migrant detention centers.

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