Stop Comparing Trump’s Executive Order To The Japanese Internment
Stop Comparing Trump’s Executive Order To The Japanese Internment
I have lost count of the number of people I have seen posting everywhere on social media who are now immigration law experts. (Everyone apparently has been sleeping at Holiday Inn Express hotels, I guess.) If you listen to any number of protestors, politicians, or activists, there is an oft-repeated comparison: This is the “darkest day” in immigration since the Japanese internment camps.
First of all, no one seems to know what the ACTUAL wording of Executive Order 9066 really was. This was the entire crux of that order:
Now, therefore, by virtue of the authority vested in me as President of the United States, and Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy, I hereby authorize and direct the Secretary of War, and the Military Commanders whom he may from time to time designate, whenever he or any designated Commander deems such action necessary or desirable, to prescribe military areas in such places and of such extent as he or the appropriate Military Commander may determine, from which any or all persons may be excluded, and with respect to which, the right of any person to enter, remain in, or leave shall be subject to whatever restrictions the Secretary of War or the appropriate Military Commander may impose in his discretion. The Secretary of War is hereby authorized to provide for residents of any such area who are excluded therefrom, such transportation, food, shelter, and other accommodations as may be necessary, in the judgment of the Secretary of War or the said Military Commander, and until other arrangements are made, to accomplish the purpose of this order.
Notice what is not in this paragraph – and actually never is mentioned in the entirety of the executive order? The word “Japanese.” To put it bluntly, if FDR had gotten it into his head to ban all redheads from whatever newly-created “military area” had been designated, this EO would have given him the power to do that. That’s how wide sweeping EO 9066 could have been interpreted. How widespread is Trump’s executive order? It covers seven countries of origin. Now, you can agree or disagree with the EO that Trump signed, but the criteria of who is actually being prohibited from traveling to the United States is significantly more specific than “any or all persons” that a Cabinet Secretary or Military Commander decides needs to be “excluded.”
Second, the reason that EO 9066 was so egregious is that it gave the power to the federal government to detain American citizens within a “military area” for whatever cause they saw fit. When the “military area” is roughly the entire West Coast, this is quite obviously a problem. But do you know who had already been arrested before EO 9066 was signed? About 5,500 Japanese men who were first-generation “Issei.” These men were legally Japanese citizens, and on the night of December 7, 1941, the FBI came knocking on doors to arrest many of them. My great-grandfather was one of them. But do you know who else were arrested in that same period of time? German and Italian nationals. In total, 31,899 people were interned under this program which specifically targeted citizens of enemy countries thanks to a separate law:
The authority for the internment was the Alien Enemies Act of 1798 [Section 21, Title 50, of the US Code, April 16, 1918], invoked subsequent to a declaration of war along with three Presidential Proclamations [2525 to 2527] declaring nationals from Japan, Germany, and Italy to be alien enemies and “. . . liable to be apprehended, restrained, secured and removed as alien enemies.”
And if this had been the end of the arrests and internment, we would likely never hear about it to this day. However, because EO 9066 was signed, and gave broad power to the federal government to remove anyone they deemed a threat to national security inside a “military area,” American citizens were forced to leave their homes as prisoners. Can we all agree that this is not happening right now under the Trump administration? And if it ever should come to pass that an EO is signed that allows the Trump administration to remove American citizens forcibly from their homes with no warrant for arrest, I promise you I will be the first to protest. But, again, this is not what is happening under this EO.
Trump’s executive order is all over the front pages of every single major newspaper and website at the moment. You know what wasn’t? Executive Order 9066. I’ve looked at the front page of the New York Times for the dates of February 19, 20, and 21 in 1942. You know what I see? Updates on the war. Worry about Churchill’s cabinet. Senate votes. Absolutely nothing about an executive order that just gave the government the power to begin a mass incarceration of American citizens. History has already changed American perception. In this day and age, nothing like the Japanese internment would ever be able to happen because the press – both mainstream media and the blogosphere – would catch it immediately. So, congratulations, everyone. Your vigilance has ensured that the massive rounding up and imprisonment of American citizens will not happen again. And even with all the coverage of the current executive orders, every honest consumer of media needs to acknowledge that preventing non-citizens from temporarily entering the United States is quite different than the long-term incarceration of American citizens. (Yes, the inability to figure out the green card issue is a complete and utter failure on the part of the Trump administration. This is why executive orders are problematic in the first place – a decree from “on high” is never going to consider all the possible issues the way a congressional bill might. This was a problem in the Obama administration, and now it’s a problem in the Trump administration.)
So, please, please, PLEASE – don’t fall for the hyperbole. The two situations are not comparable, and frankly, it’s downright offensive to insinuate that they are. An American citizen has guaranteed rights under the Constitution. Those rights were suspended for citizens of Japanese descent during World War II. No one who is not a citizen of the United States has a right to come here and live. American citizens don’t have the rights of citizens in other countries, either. A sovereign nation gets to decide who comes inside its borders to live. Mexico has those laws. Canada has those laws. And so does the United States.