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Rep. Mark Takano Trump's family separation policy echoes my family's World War II internment. That damage lasted decades.

It took 40 years for our nation to admit the horrors we inflicted on innocent Japanese-Americans.
Japanese internment camp
Shigeho Kitamoto and her four children leave Washington on March 30, 1942, headed for internment camps in California.AP

During World War II, my parents and grandparents were forced by the United States government to leave their homes. Almost 120,000 people — men, women and even young children — were moved into internment camps across the United States. They had been targeted for imprisonment for no reason other than their Japanese heritage.

The damage done to those interned by their own government was so undeniable that President Ronald Reagan signed legislation in 1988 formally apologizing for the Japanese internment and providing reparations to survivors. When Reagan took this action, it seemed as though America had learned the lessons of this mistake.

The news coming today from our southern border makes it clear that we have not.

When Reagan took this action, it seemed as though America had learned the lessons of this mistake. The news coming today from our southern border makes it clear that we have not.

In May, the Trump administration adopted an unprecedented “zero tolerance” policy for people crossing the southern border without authorization. In the weeks since, countless images, videos and recordings have been released showing the stark human cost of this decision.

The American government is tearing apart families and placing sobbing children into prison-camp like conditions, at least one of them made from a hastily converted Walmart store. These are not conditions similar to “summer camps,” as some have dishonestly claimed. These children are living in cages — conditions that no American parent would accept for his or her child.

Many of these children came to our country with parents who were fleeing violence and danger in their own country. Many of these parents came here to seek legal asylum in the United States, and in response the Trump administration is inflicting great trauma and pain upon their children, according to medical experts.

Health experts are essentially united in their concern that these separations could do lifelong harm to the emotional, physical and social wellbeing of these children. Religious leaders from different faiths and from every political perspective have also condemned these policies as immoral and damaging to the character of our nation.

And yet, government agents continue to remove children from their parents, place them in cages and then claim that the surest way to see their kids again is to plead guilty to illegally crossing the border — even if they came to the United States seeking asylum.

No law requires that such cruelty be visited upon these families, yet the president and members of his cabinet have claimed that Democrats in Congress are forcing them to take these actions.

I will not mince words here: the president and his administration are lying.

They are lying when they claim to be merely following the law. They are lying when they claim that Democrats are somehow obstructing efforts to stop these family separations. They are lying when they claim that these actions are necessary to keep our nation safe.

The damage done by the Japanese internment in the 1940s impacted my family for decades after. My grandparents struggled financially because they lost their businesses and property while in the camps. My father was badly burned while imprisoned as a child, and still bears scars on his body from this incident.

Yet, despite my family’s experiences during World War II, I grew up in a household that held our nation in high esteem. I had great uncles who actually fought against the Nazis, risking their lives to secure for the people of Europe the very same freedoms that were being denied to their own family members in the United States. After the war, my grandparents did their best to rebuild.

The press and public must continue to hold the Trump administration accountable for its brazen lies about this crisis.

Because of their faith and hard work, I have the honor of serving in Congress today, where I fight for the values that have long defined the United States: tolerance, inclusion, respect for the rule of law and a willingness to learn from history.

These values are absent in the Trump administration’s recent actions on the border. They are absent in his administration’s shifting and dishonest explanations for its policies. They are absent in the inaction from the Republican leadership in Congress in the face of this crisis.

I am one of more than 190 Democratic co-sponsors of the Keep Families Together Act, which would end the forced separations at our border. Republicans in the House and Senate should join us in this effort to protect children.

Migrant children are led by staff in single file between tents at a detention facility next to the Mexican border in Tornillo, Texas, on Monday.Mike Blake / Reuters

Further, the press and public must continue to hold the Trump administration accountable for its brazen lies about this crisis. In particular, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen must be called out for her crass dishonesty in the face of reasonable questions. Her performance at a press conference on Monday was shocking, and she can no longer be considered a trustworthy actor on essential matters related to her position. She should resign.

It took 40 years for our nation to finally live up to the horrors we inflicted on innocent Japanese-Americans through internment, and the wounds of those policies linger until today. We shouldn’t wait another 40 years to address the horrors happening on our border today.

Rep. Mark Takano represents parts of Riverside County, CA, in the United States House of Representatives. He is the vice ranking member of the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, and a former public school teacher.