LOCAL NEWS

Utah Sen. Mike Lee drops opposition after drawing outrage, internment camp bill advances

Feb 15, 2022, 12:34 PM | Updated: Jun 13, 2022, 3:40 pm
Topaz, the Japanese internment camp which held over 8,000 internees for a 3 1/2 years, shown here i...
Topaz, the Japanese internment camp which held over 8,000 internees for a 3 1/2 years, shown here in 1943. (Utah State Historical Society)
(Utah State Historical Society)

DENVER (AP) — A proposal to create a national historic site at a former World War II Japanese American internment camp in rural Colorado has passed the U.S. Senate after Republican Utah Sen. Mike Lee dropped his objections to adding more land to the federal government’s portfolio — in this case less than a square mile.

The bipartisan bill to make Camp Amache part of the National Park System, sponsored by members of Colorado’s congressional delegation, goes to the House for final consideration. Its Senate passage Monday evening comes just before Saturday’s 80th anniversary of President Franklin Roosevelt’s order that led to the forced internment of 120,000 Japanese Americans at the onset of the war.

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, a Colorado Democrat, said he had the support of 99 of the chamber’s 100 senators to pass the Amache National Historic Site Act, which would make the remote southeastern Colorado landmark a national historic site eligible for additional preservation assistance.

The word "Topaz" spelled into the fence in barbed wire can be seen at the memorial site just outside of the World War II Japanese-American Topaz Internment Camp near Delta, Utah. (Kaitlyn Bancroft) FILE -A rebuilt recreation hall from the Topaz Japanese-American internment camp is on display at the Topaz Museum, June 9, 2015, in Delta. (Deseret News) A rebuilt dorm room from the Topaz Japanese-American internment camp on display at the Topaz Museum, June 9, 2015, in Delta. (Tom Smart, Deseret News) An art show of works from the Topaz Japanese-American internment camp is on display at the Topaz Museum, June 9, 2015, in Delta, Utah. (Deseret News) In April 1943, thousands of Topaz prisoners turned out for the funeral of the 63-year-old James Wakasa. Wakasa had been shot by the military police for walking with his dog too close to the camp's barbed wire perimeter.
(Utah State Historical Society) Topaz, the Japanese internment camp which held over 8,000 internees for a 3 1/2 years, shown here in 1943. (Utah State Historical Society)

Under the original bill, the land, owned by the town of Granada in Colorado’s eastern plains, would be purchased or donated to the federal government, although Bennet’s office says preparations have been made for the town to donate the site.

But the bill failed to pass the Senate by unanimous consent earlier this month due to a lone objection from Lee, who opposes adding new federal lands without adequate funding and in the past has advocated for “swaps” to prevent expanding federal land ownership.

The dispute came amid a broader reckoning about race in U.S. history as Japanese Americans strive to spread awareness about the gross injustices committed by the U.S. government against their community during World War II.

Bennet and Lee sparred on the Senate floor Monday before Lee agreed to drop his insistence on a land swap and Bennet clarified that Granada will donate the Amache site. Lee did call the internment of Japanese Americans “racist” and “shameful” but still insisted the U.S. government has an obligation to dispose of federal lands in the West.

“The federal government still owns two-thirds of all the land in my state,” declared Lee, one of the Republican Party’s most vocal opponents of the expansive power that federal agencies have to manage public lands in Western states.

“We have to get this done,” Bennet said, “because the survivors of Amache are growing fewer and fewer in number each year.”

The Amache site contains remnants of barracks, latrines, mess halls, military police structures and a cemetery. It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places, qualifying it for preservation funds. Designating it a National Historic Site would make available additional federal funds through the National Park Service.

Japanese Americans were held in camps across the U.S. West, as well on a smaller scale elsewhere in the U.S., under an executive order issued by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1942. More than 7,000 people were interned at Amache between 1942 and 1945.

Lee’s stance drew outrage from numerous organizations, including the Japanese American Citizens League and the National Parks Conservation Association, which advocates for the National Park System.

“I have waited many, many years to see the day where we can be certain that Amache, as a place of reflection, remembrance, honor, and healing, is protected for our current and future generations,” Bob Fuchigami, an Amache survivor, said in a statement released by the conservation association. Fuchigami, who testified for the bill, was 11 years old when his family was expelled from their farm in Yuba City, California, to Amache in May 1942.

Lee’s office released the following Tuesday afternoon:

WASHINGTON – Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) reached agreement on establishing the Amache Internment Camp site in Granada, Colorado as a national historic site. While both Senators had sought to commemorate the horrors of Japanese internment, they had different approaches. After debate on the Senate floor, the members agreed to a compromise solution.

Sen. Lee said in the Senate debate, “No person should ever be in prison solely due to their race, that shouldn’t even be a factor in anyone’s imprisonment. Certainly not in the United States of America. Japanese internment is one of the very worst examples of our government rejecting its founding principles. It’s something that should be remembered so that it can never be repeated. …”

“Regrettably, the United States has failed to meet other, admittedly far less fundamental obligations it has made to individuals and states. One of those obligations is relevant here. … The federal government has neglected commitments made by Congress to western states and the time or their admission is dispose of their large swaths of federal land.”

Lee continued, “I have been wrongfully portrayed by some in the media as being somehow against this historical recognition, and against commemorating, as a warning to future generations and to honor the victims of the past, one of this nations and its government’s tragic missteps. I continue to negotiate in good faith to find a way forward with this bill.”

After the floor exchange, the Senate unanimously passed a compromise bill that would allow for the federal acquisition of the site at no cost to taxpayers.

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

Local News

First responders on the scene of the motorcyclist who fell about 50 feet. (Washington County Sherif...
Michael Houck

Rescue crews save woman stuck in remote area and motorcyclist who fell 50 feet

Washington County officials responded to two different search & rescue operations on Sunday.
20 hours ago
FILE PHOTO...
Michael Houck

Backcountry skier dies after slipping, falling near Lisa Falls

A man is dead after tumbling a "significant distance" while backcountry skiing in Little Cottonwood Canyon on Saturday.
20 hours ago
USU student Max Shulga during Saturday night's game....
Shelby Lofton

Utah State community responds to ‘Russia’ chants directed at Ukrainian player

Some USU students say that the Colorado State University students crossed a line that goes beyond simple trash talk during a game.
20 hours ago
The collapsed awning at the Wing Pointe Apartments (Heber City Police Department)...
Michael Houck

Snow collapses awning at a Heber apartment complex

Six cars were trapped under a collapsed awning after the Sunday afternoon snowfall. 
20 hours ago
Image of the scene where police witnessed a wrong-way driver crash in Salt Lake City (Salt Lake Cit...
Chandler Holt, KSL Newsradio

SLCPD officer witnesses wrong-way drunk driver crash into embankment

A Salt Lake City police officer witnessed the truck crossing the medium several times before losing control and crashing into an embankment Saturday night.
20 hours ago
Randy Martin working on a reading station in West Valley City. (KSL-TV's Mike Anderson)...
Mike Anderson

Utah air quality is continuing to get worse, says USU professor

A Utah State University professor says that Utahns are breathing some of the worst air we've seen in over a decade.
2 days ago

Sponsored Articles

vintage photo of lighting showroom featuring chandeliers, lamps, wall lights and mirrors...
Lighting Design

History of Lighting Design | Over 25 Years of Providing Utah With the Latest Trends and Styles

Read about the history of Lighting Design, a family-owned and operated business that paved the way for the lighting industry in Utah.
Fiber Optical cables connected to an optic ports and Network cables connected to ethernet ports...
Brian Huston, CE and Anthony Perkins, BICSI

Why Every Business Needs a Structured Cabling System

A structured cabling system benefits businesses by giving you faster processing speeds and making your network more efficient and reliable.
notebook with password notes highlighted...
PC Laptops

How to Create Strong Passwords You Can Actually Remember

Learn how you can create strong passwords that are actually easy to remember! In a short time you can create new ones in seconds.
house with for rent sign posted...
Chase Harrington, president and COO of Entrata

Top 5 Reasons You May Want to Consider Apartment Life Over Owning a Home

There are many benefits of renting that can be overshadowed by the allure of buying a home. Here are five reasons why renting might be right for you.
Festive kitchen in Christmas decorations. Christmas dining room....
Lighting Design

6 Holiday Decor Trends to Try in 2022

We've rounded out the top 6 holiday decor trends for 2022 so you can be ahead of the game before you start shopping. 
Happy diverse college or university students are having fun on their graduation day...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

How to Choose What MBA Program is Right for You: Take this Quiz Before You Apply!

Wondering what MBA program is right for you? Take this quiz before you apply to see if it will help you meet your goals.
Utah Sen. Mike Lee drops opposition after drawing outrage, internment camp bill advances