GOP senator blocks Japanese internment camp designation, but not for the reason Dems think

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Leftists viciously attacked Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) for being the lone holdout in creating a national historic site for the Amache Japanese internment camp in rural Colorado, but what they didn’t publicize is that he did so because he is staunchly against the expansion of federal lands.

The face-off takes place on the eve of the 80th anniversary of the forced internment of 120,000 Japanese Americans at the onset of World War II, according to the Associated Press. While social media is replete with examples of Democrats calling Lee racist and fascist, it should be noted that it was Franklin D. Roosevelt, a Democrat, who put the Japanese in camps.

Notwithstanding that fact, Lee, who is a constitutional conservative, is against adding new federal lands without adequate funding and in the past has advocated for “swaps” to prevent expanding federal land ownership. He has been one of the strongest proponents against the expansive power that federal agencies wield in regard to the management of public lands in Western states. His long-term goal is to transfer federal lands to state control.

He supported the Trump administration’s 2017 decision to shrink the size of two national monuments, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, in Utah. Last year, Lee opposed the Biden administration’s decision to restore Bears Ears’ original borders.

Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) proclaimed that he had the support of the other 99 senators in the chamber to pass the Amache National Historic Site Act. If the act were implemented, it would make the remote southeastern Colorado landmark a national historic site eligible for additional preservation assistance.

He called the Japanese American internment one of “the most disgraceful chapters in our nation’s history” fed by “racist fear.”

In a speech he gave on Feb. 3, Bennet stated that the bill was intended to honor people “who never gave up on the United States of America even as it was interning them on their own soil.”

The bill was co-sponsored by Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-CO). It failed to pass unanimous consent last week because Lee refused to be pressured into expanding federal lands.

“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, Lee Lonsberry, told The Associated Press in an interview.

Reps. Ken Buck and Joe Neguse (D-CO) introduced a similar House bill that passed last year. Bennet’s Senate bill is not dead yet and may still advance for consideration despite Lee taking a stance against it.

Bennet’s office and the Prowers County Assessor contend that the Amache site is less than one square mile in size. The land contains the remnants of barracks, mess halls, latrines, military observation towers, and a cemetery.

Camp Amache is owned by the town of Granada and is currently listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Its current designation qualifies it for preservation funds, but designating it as a National Historic Site would reportedly make available additional federal funds through the National Park Service.

Roosevelt held Japanese Americans in 10 camps in California, Arizona, Wyoming, Utah, Arkansas, and Colorado. They were forced out of their homes under the Democratic president’s executive order that was issued on Feb. 19, 1942. Over 7,000 people were interned at Amache, which was named after a Cheyenne chief’s daughter, between 1942 and 1945. The site is managed by the Amache Preservation Society.

Lee was slammed for his stance by the Japanese American Citizens League and the National Parks Conservation Association. The citizens league, its local Southern Colorado affiliate, and other groups plan a Day of Remembrance on Feb. 19 while demanding passage of Bennet’s bill.

Both Bennet and Lee’s offices have stated that the senators have spoken about how to add the remnants of the Amache-Granada War Relocation Center to the parks system. Lee has offered an amendment to the bill but it is unknown what it entails at this point.


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