We all knew it would come to this, didn’t we?
Last night, Trump supporter Carl Higbie, a former spokesperson for the Great America PAC, appeared on Fox News’ The Kelly File to defend the Trump administration’s plans to create a national registry of Muslims. When challenged about the unconstitutionality of such a plan, Higbie declared that the proposed registry had legal precedent, highlighting Japanese American incarceration as an example (video after the jump).
In the segment, Higbie cites national security concerns to justify his belief that the United States should register Muslims. When asked whether such a registry would violate the constitutional rights of those Muslims who would be forced to register their movement, Higbie said that America has a history of forcing members of racial or ethnic groups to register with the government, including during World War II when Executive Order 9066 resulted in the forcible removal of over 100,000 Japanese Americans into American concentration camps (a note on language from the JACL).
Higbie suggests that national registries — and forcible relocation — of non-citizens is legal because immigrants do not fall under the protection of the US Constitution. Yet, during World War II, two-thirds of Japanese incarcerated in camps were US citizens. Furthermore, non-citizen incarcerees were not non-citizens by choice; at the time, the United States prohibited the naturalization of immigrants from Asia by race. Never mind, of course, that a subsequent century of court rulings have established that the Constitution does, in fact, apply to immigrants, documented or otherwise.
Japanese American incarceration is considered among the darkest moments of American history. Compelled almost entirely by racist intolerance and stereotypes, America incarcerated Japanese Americans in desolate and harsh conditions for years. Families were broken up while personal property — totaling nearly $150 million dollars across all incarcerees — was looted by White neighbours. After the camps were closed, Japanese Americans lobbied the federal government for redress, finally winning an apology and reparations in 1988. Nonetheless, the Supreme Court ruled in 1944 in Korematsu v. United States forcible removal of Japanese Americans from their homes was legal, leaving the doors open for future registration and incarceration efforts targeting certain groups by race or religion.
This seems to be more likely than ever under a President Donald Trump.
The Fox News segment was prompted by news that broke earlier this week that President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team had tapped Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, architect of an earlier federal effort to register Muslim immigrants, as a key member of his transition team. In 2002, Congress under the Bush administration charged Kobach (then a Justice Department advisor) to create the National Security Entry-Exit Registry System (NSEERS), which has been described as “a tool that allowed the government to systematically target Arabs, Middle Easterners, Muslims, and South Asians from designated countries for enhanced scrutiny.”
“The most controversial piece of NSEERS required nonimmigrant males who were 16 years of age and older from 25 specific countries to register at local immigration offices for fingerprinting, photographs, and lengthy, invasive interrogations,” reports the RIGHTS Working Group and the Center for Immigrants’ Rights, Pennsylvania State University’s Dickinson School of Law. NSEERS came under harsh fire from civil rights organizations who argued that the system amounted to state-sanctioned racial profiling designed to specifically target Muslims. NSEERS required Muslim immigrants to notify the government of their every movement under a mind-boggling array of legal strictures, and it criminalized any who failed to promptly register their travel even if by accident or by ignorance; as a consequence, 16% of registered Muslims — most of them innocent of any of the criminal activities the program was designed to prevent — were deported as a result of the program.
In fact, NSEERS failed to identify a single terrorist over the decade of its existence, according to a 2012 statement by Senator Dick Durbin before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
NSEERS was abandoned in 2011 and replaced by the Obama Administration’s US-VISIT program which uses biometric data to track all non-citizens who apply for visas or enter the United States at ports of entry for comparison against a database of suspected terrorists. In contrast to NSEERS, the program is applied to all travelers regardless of country of origin, except for in a few notable exceptions such as for those citizens who travel between the United States and Canada.
Now, NSEERS is poised to make a comeback under the Trump administration. Kobach has influence with Trump, and he has been floated as a possible candidate for attorney general. In a recent round of interviews, Kobach suggested that in his first days in office, Trump should write an Executive Order reinstituting NSEERS.
The return of NSEERS should be truly frightening to all those who value civil rights. Indeed, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) opposed NSEERS when it was first implemented in 2002, and has already vowed to fight the Trump administration should it attempt this or any other of its unconstitutional campaign promises.
Today, I call upon the Asian American & Pacific Islander (AAPI) community to join this fight. Our community is all too familiar with the consequences of a government that deploys racist suspicion against its own citizenry to violate their basic civil rights. We must speak out strongly against Carl Higbie’s invocation of Japanese American incarceration to support a national registry of Muslims, and we must stand in the way of Trump’s plans to reinstitute this registry. I call upon AAPI members of Congress — including members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) — to take the lead in fighting any Trump administration effort to rewrite Asian American history as justification for the targeting, registration, harassment, and criminalization of Muslims.
Donald Trump has not even been sworn into office, and already the lives and security of people of colour are in jeopardy. Now is the time for AAPIs to join our allies and the Democratic party. Together, we must draw a line in the sand, and we must tell Trump that he may encroach no further upon the civil liberties of people of colour.
We must issue a challenge to the future president that he will not take away our rights without a fight.
Update (11/17/2016, 12:30pm): Actor George Takei, who grew up in the camps and who is now a vocal advocate for Japanese American history, tweeted criticism of the segment calling Higbie’s remarks “dangerous”. Representative Mark Takano also tweeted a call upon Trump to disavow Higbie’s statements.
DNC spokesperson Mark Paustenbach also said, according to NBC News:
Update (11/17/2016, 4:45pm): DNC AAPI Caucus chair Bel-Long Hong issued a statement condemning Higbie’s commentary.
The Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) also issued a statement, which included comments from CAPAC Chair Judy Chu, CAPAC Vice Chair Madeleine Bordallo, CAPAC whip Mark Takano whose family was forcibly removed by Executive Order 9066 during World War II, and CAPAC Chair Emeritus Mike Honda, who spent time in an American concentration camp as a child.
On Twitter, Carl Higbie (@CarlHigbie) blamed “dishonest media” today for the backlash against his commentary, saying that people were upset because of “wrong headlines”. I humbly suggest that Higbie may, once again, be wrong.
Update (11/18/2016, 12:30pm): Both the Japanese American Citizens’ League (JACL) and the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans have issued statements denouncing Higbie’s comments. NCAPA national director Chris Kang said:
The JACL said:
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