Lawmakers Compare Border Policies to WWII Internment of Japanese-Americans

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois, shown here in a Feb. 14, 2018, photo, is one of the sponsors of the Korematsu-Takai Civil Liberties Protection Act of 2019 to prohibit the imprisonment of U.S. citizens "on the basis of race, religion, nationality, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity or disability." (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois, shown here in a Feb. 14, 2018, photo, is one of the sponsors of the Korematsu-Takai Civil Liberties Protection Act of 2019 to prohibit the imprisonment of U.S. citizens "on the basis of race, religion, nationality, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity or disability." (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Congressional lawmakers and a Japanese-American civil rights group used Tuesday's annual "Day of Remembrance" for the Japanese-Americans sent to internment camps during World War II to warn against President Donald Trump's immigration policies.

"It is not enough for today to be a Day of Remembrance," David Inoue, executive director of the Japanese American Citizens League, said in a statement.

"It must be a day that we say no more to separating families and imprisoning children, no more spreading lies about immigrants, no more targeting of people because of where they come from or what religion they follow, and no more using the census as a weapon," Inoue said.

Rep. Adam Smith, D-Washington, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said in a statement that, long after the injustice against Japanese-Americans, "we are seeing the unjust treatment of immigrants and refugees with the discriminatory actions of our president through decisions like the Muslim ban and the insistent requests for funds to build a wall along our southern border."

The Feb. 19 "Day of Remembrance" marks the 1942 signing by President Franklin D. Roosevelt of Executive Order 9066, which sent more than 100,000 Japanese-American citizens and those of Japanese ancestry to 10 internment camps in isolated areas over fears of sabotage that proved to be unfounded.

Then-Gov. Earl Warren of California, who would become chief justice of the Supreme Court, strongly backed Roosevelt on internment. He later would write in his memoirs, "It was wrong to react so impulsively, without positive evidence of disloyalty."

In 1983, the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, appointed by Congress to review Executive Order 9066, found that it was based on "race prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership."

President Ronald Reagan signed into law in 1988 the Civil Liberties Act, which apologized for the internments and authorized reparations payments of $20,000 to each internment camp survivor. "We gather here to right a grave wrong," he said in signing the bill.

The White House had no comment on the Day of Remembrance, but Trump briefly spoke to the issue of Japanese internment during the presidential campaign in December 2015.

"I would have had to be there at the time to tell you, to give you a proper answer," he told Time Magazine of what his position might have been. "I certainly hate the concept of it. But I would have had to be there at the time to give you a proper answer."

House and Senate Democrats this week pointed to similarities between the WWII internments and the current debate over the wall and the so-called "caravans" heading north to the border, although most of the Japanese-Americans interned were citizens, while the asylum seekers are undocumented.

"As we remember those who suffered in internment camps, I am saddened and disturbed by President Trump's cruel policies targeting refugees and separating immigrant families," Rep. Barbara Lee, D-California, said in a statement joining with other members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC).

Last week, Rep. Mark Takano, D-California; and Sens. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, and Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois, introduced the Korematsu-Takai Civil Liberties Protection Act of 2019 to prohibit the imprisonment of U.S. citizens "on the basis of race, religion, nationality, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity or disability."

"We cannot allow what my parents, grandparents, and 115,000 other Japanese-Americans underwent during World War II to ever happen again in our country," said Takano, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee.

"The rhetoric and policies being promoted by this administration are a cause for concern and further emphasize the need for this legislation," he said.

Hirono, who was born in Japan, said, "The incarceration of Japanese-Americans during World War II was deeply wrong, and something like it should never happen again."

"Over the past two years, however, Donald Trump and his administration have pursued divisive policies and rhetoric that demonize the Muslim community and other marginalized groups," she said.

The Korematsu-Takai Civil Liberties Protection Act of 2019 was named for the late Rep. Mark Takai, D-Hawaii, a National Guard lieutenant colonel who served in Iraq in 2009, and the late Fred Korematsu, who at age 23 during World War II resisted relocation to an internment camp and challenged Executive Order 9066 in court.

Takai was honored for his advocacy on immigration issues and Korematsu for taking his case to the Supreme Court. Korematsu lost on a 6-3 decision in a landmark 1944 case. The Korematsu ruling was overturned by the Supreme Court in 2018.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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