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Republican Utah Senator Blocks Memorial For Internment Camp Site

Republican Utah Senator Blocks Memorial For Internment Camp Site

Mike Lee without a mask

A Republican Senator is getting backlash for holding up the creation of a national historic site that’s not even being built in his state.

Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, one of Donald Trump’s most vocal supporters, has also been one of the Republican Party’s most vocal opponents of the expansive power that federal agencies have to manage public lands in Western states. Sen. Michael Bennet, a Colorado Democrat, says he has 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. But his bill, co-sponsored by Colorado Democratic Sen. John Hickenlooper, failed to pass by unanimous consent last week due to the 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.

In 1942, Japanese Americans were held in 10 camps in California, Arizona, Wyoming, Utah, Arkansas, and Colorado, expelled from their homes near the West Coast under an executive order issued by President Franklin Roosevelt. More than 7,000 people were interned at Amache — the camp’s unofficial name, after a Cheyenne chief’s daughter — between 1942 and 1945. According to the National Park Service, a cemetery, reservoir, water well and tank, and trees planted by internees remain at the site, which is managed by a non-profit, the Amache Preservation Society.


“Senator Lee does not object to this specific historical site. He does object to any increase in the total amount of land owned by the federal government as the federal government fails to adequately care for the land already in its vast holdings,” Lee’s spokesman said in a press statement.

The dispute comes 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. Calling the Japanese American internment one of “the most disgraceful chapters in our nation’s history” fed by “racist fear,” Bennet said in a floor speech on February 3rd. The bill is intended to honor people “who never gave up on the United States of America, even as it was interning them on their own soil.”

Lee’s stance has drawn outrage from numerous organizations, including the Japanese American Citizens League and the National Parks Conservation Association, which advocates for the National Park System. The citizens league, its local Southern Colorado affiliate, and other groups plan a Day of Remembrance on February 19th that will, in part, demand passage of Bennet’s bill.

Lee received plenty of criticism on Twitter for this and his other transgressions against minority communities.

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