Eleanor Roosevelt at the Gila River at the Japanese American internment center in Arizona. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Eleanor Roosevelt at the Gila River at the Japanese American internment center in Arizona. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The Japanese American Citizens League, the national organization representing persons of Japanese ancestry in the US, has blasted a statement by Carl Higbie, the co-chair and spokesperson for the Great America Political Action Committee for Donald Trump, in which the adviser to the President-elect discussed the possibility of creating a registry for immigrants from Muslim countries on a Fox News segment.

Higbie, a former Navy SEAL, argued that such registration would survive a constitutional test and noted, “We’ve done it with Iran back a while ago. We did it during World War II with the Japanese.”

The JACL, a long-standing critic of the World War II internment of 120,000 Japanese Americans by the US government, said in a statement: “Higbie’s attempt to cite Japanese American incarceration as a precedent for this type of action is frightening and wrong. It’s a statement intended to lay a marker for a misguided belief that ignores the true lessons of Japanese American incarceration.

“This lesson was captured in the words of a federal commission that said, “… The broad historical causes which shaped these decisions (to incarcerate Japanese Americans) were race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.”

The organization added: “JACL believes that some of these same conditions exist today, where Muslim Americans are being singled out and unfairly targeted, and where the voices of leadership that should be speaking out against unfair treatment are not.

We must not misinterpret our history by believing the Japanese American incarceration was justified as a precedent for similar actions today, and further, we must not use the wrongdoing perpetrated against Japanese Americans during World War II as a justification for the mistreatment of Muslim Americans.”

Residents of Japanese ancestry at the Heart Mountain relocation center in Wyoming. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

US President Ronald Reagan issued a formal apology to the Japanese American survivors of the wartime relocation camps in 1988 under the Civil Liberties Act. The government also paid out US$20,000 in compensation to each surviving victim.

The wartime administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt “relocated” between 110,000 to 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry on the West Coast in 1942 to 10 internment camps located in desert sites or disused land in California, Idaho, Utah, Arizona, Wyoming, Colorado and Arkansas. Some 62% of the internees were US citizens.

They were not allowed to leave the camps until 1944 when some were permitted to resettle on the East Coast. Those who wished to return to their original homes on the West Coast could not do so until 1945 – until Japan surrendered to the allies.

The JACL is the oldest and largest Asian American civil rights organization in the US.

A man with his grandson of Japanese ancestry at the Manzanar relocation center in California. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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