A man leads his daughter past a military police officer during a re-enactment of the 1942 internment of Japanese Americans, in 2002. Photo: AFP /Mike Fiala
A man leads his daughter past a military police officer during a re-enactment of the 1942 internment of Japanese Americans, in 2002. Photo: AFP /Mike Fiala

The Japanese American Citizens League, the national organization representing persons of Japanese ancestry in the US, has issued a statement saying it “vehemently objects” to President Trump’s recent executive orders on immigration.

“Whether they concern building a wall along the US-Mexico border, threatening to increase deportations by the granting of additional powers to immigration enforcement officials and the targeting of sanctuary cities, or banning refugees and immigrants from entering the country, we stand with our organizational partners in rejecting these xenophobic, fear-mongering tactics,” the JACL said in a statement.

Trump last week imposed a temporary ban on entry visas for refugees and people from seven predominantly Muslim countries and said he was moving ahead with plans to build a wall along the US-Mexico border to halt the flow of illegal immigrants.

Trump also fired acting attorney general Sally Q. Yates on January 30 for refusing to defend his executive order on immigration as nationwide demonstrations erupted across the US protesting his actions. “A large number of Asian Americans have joined the protests, including South Asians,” said Timmy Lu, an Oakland, California-based based activist for the Asian Pacific Environmental Network.

Deja vu from WWII

The JACL, a long-time critic of the World War II internment of 120,000 Japanese Americans by the US government, said the “security rationale” used by the Trump administration to justify his immigration order was a throwback to one used in 1942 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt when he signed Executive Order 9066. Roosevelt’s 9066 order allowed native-born and immigrant Japanese Americans to be forcibly removed from designated areas in the West Coast of the country to internment camps in the Southwest.

“Although the threat of terrorism is real, we must learn from our history and not allow our fears to overwhelm our values,” the JACL said, while affirming its continuing support for refugee resettlement and immigrant rights in the US.

JACL Interim Executive Director William Yoshino says the group plans other follow-up actions.

“We’re encouraging our members and chapters to participate in rallies and marches, in addition to calling their elected public officials,” Yoshino said. “We’re also encouraging them to do outreach and be in contact with our organization partners in their local areas to participate in joint activities and events.”

Yoshino, for example, says he participated on a panel at Loyola School of Law in Chicago earlier this week with other immigrant rights groups to address what happened to Japanese Americans in World War II. “The incarceration story and its lessons are an important narrative to what is taking place,” Yoshino said.

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 and paid out US$20,000 in compensation to each surviving victim. The legislation also admitted that Roosevelt’s order was based on “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.”

Other Asian groups blast Trump

Separately, a coalition of more than 200 Asian American and Pacific Islander organizations have signed a “statement of principles” blasting the Trump administration on immigration and other policies.

“We stand at a critical juncture in world history. The election of Donald Trump as president of the United States represents a direct threat to millions of people’s safety and to the health of the planet,” the statement reads in part. “As Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) committed to equality, inclusion, and justice, we pledge to resist any efforts by [Trump’s] administration to target and exploit communities, to strip people of their fundamental rights and access to essential services, and to use rhetoric and policies that divide the American people and endanger the world.”

Doug Tsuruoka is Editor-at-Large of Asia Times