Crystal City…Could It Happen Again?

I am reading The Train to Crystal City, a book by Jan Jarboe Russell.  I have been amazed at this little discussed historical place in Crystal City, Texas. In no history class have I ever heard of how many U.S. naturalized citizens were herded up and sent off to this internment camp in the 1940s because they were originally from Japan, Germany, or Italy.

I have included copies of these U.S. Gov’t Relocation films released to explain the plan behind the internment camps. However, in reading more interviews, and reports in newspapers regarding the stories of families, there were many injustices by our government officials against American born children of detainees. 

The highlighted text above will take you to the original article from which I pasted the below films.


While one of the films shows aspects of the camp that reflect a spa-like quality, the vast majority of the detainees interviewed do not have happy memories of the camp life in Crystal City, surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards.

In Russell’s book, the Germans in camp were more divided than the Japanese and had more internal conflicts because there was a Nazi faction in the camp and German Americans who were loyal to the U.S. This caused a great deal of problems for German American families within the camp. The Japanese were larger in number and had come from a country exampling more government organization. Therefore, they created a strong committee with officers who met with camp officials and bargained for  better treatment and housing for their people. The German detainees also had representatives, but more agitators created difficulty in finding compromises with camp administration.

According to Russell’s investigation into the camp, the families transferred to this camp to be reunited with their husbands had to sign an application for repatriation, which resulted in them giving the U.S. the right to trade them in prisoner exchange to the warring government for release of American prisoners of war. This volunteer act did not necessarily mean the families were guilty of treason against the United States, but it relinquished their freedoms in order to be reunited with fathers, and to be guaranteed to be given food and water, and very basic necessities. For some of these women and children, who had lost their homes and all their savings (frozen or taken by the government), they really had no choice but to take this action or starve. The fathers of these families had already been robbed of their freedoms, their right to answer to their charges, and most were never told what evidence against them caused their incarceration.

The writ of habeas corpus did not apply in any of these detainees cases because the Alien and Sedition Acts, and the Executive Order 9066, signed by FDR, made any immigrants from countries at war with the United States potentially dangerous and under suspicion. There were at least 10 camps holding over 125,000 detainees from 1942 to 1948. (This is an estimated number. Some of my research stated from 25,000 to as many as 250,000. The most common number in most reports, articles, and documents referred to the 100,000 number in relation to the Japanese and German detainees combined.) Many detainees were released at the end of the war as undocumented immigrants, but many more had been repatriated during the war to decrease numbers at the camps.   Some of the detainees were held much longer (according to government documents stating the camp continued and did not close until 1948), and I have not been able to determine who they were or why.

Sounds familiar to the current President’s attempt to ban specific cultural or religious groups of immigrants, doesn’t it? I do believe history is trying to repeat itself in our country today.  Thank God for some of the elected officials and citizens who are trying to uphold the freedoms that represent the best ideals of our country. I pray that this kind of sweeping denial of human rights and cultural separation does not occur on this scale again, but only time will tell.

I encourage anyone who has ancestors who are immigrants (umm, everyone) to read this book, read other books, investigate this piece of our history, and stay informed of the actions of our leaders against our citizens. What is your immigrant history? Would your family have been at risk in 1942 of internment? Think about it!

[Please note that I am not a historian, and some of these facts may be controversial or contradicted by other reports not viewed by this writer. This piece is intended only to spark an interest for those who have not considered their past familial immigrant status.]