This past week, Asian American scholars and activists (organized under the group, AAPIVoices) staged a nationwide week of action (#AAPIAction) around topics of immigration justice and the future of Asian American & Pacific Islander political organizing. Compelled by recent assaults on immigrant rights and the Muslim community by the Trump administration, advocacy groups across the country hosted events — including many held on college and university campuses — to promote AAPI political activism around social justice issues.
On event associated with #AAPIAction was hosted at the University of Maryland last Monday. While participants sought to raise the profile of Asian Americans in opposing the rescinding of DACA and anti-immigrant policies, the gathering at UMD was part of a larger effort among coalition partners, including a diverse group of student organizations, staff and faculty to stand up for immigrants, counter xenophobia, and recognize Indigenous People’s Day. At the event, nearly a hundred students gathered around a statue of writer and abolitionist Frederick Douglass — situated outside the campus’ R. Lee Hornbake Library — to protest in support of documented and undocumented immigrants, and against the Trump administration’s ongoing efforts to pass a Muslim travel ban. During the event, several students took to the base of the statue to share their perspectives on immigration justice and other social justice issues.
In an historic move, the families of Gordon Hirabayashi, Minoru Yasui, and Fred Korematsu — the three men behind three landmark Supreme Court cases that challenged the constitutionality of Japanese American incarceration (JACL’s Power of Words) — filed a joint amicus brief to the Supreme Court yesterday paralleling President Donald Trump’s Muslim ban with the forcible imprisonment of Japanese Americans in camps during World War II.
In 1942, Gordon Hirabayashi and Minoru Yasui filed separate Supreme Court cases challenging the constitutionality of a federally-imposed curfew on Japanese Americans, a precursor to removal orders that led to the World War II incarceration of Japanese American citizens. That same year, Fred Korematsu was arrested after he refused to report for removal and relocation orders, and his appeal of that arrest formed the basis of his Supreme Court challenge of Executive Order 9066. These three cases — along with the Ex Parte Endo decision — form the bulk of the Supreme Court case history on federal targeting of specific racial or ethnic minority groups under the auspices of national security.
One need not try too hard to see the relevance of this case history on today’s fight to stop Trump’s attempt Muslim travel ban.
In a major feature story published today, NBC News reports that three major White House Initiatives — each designed to coordinate outreach to and enhance educational opportunities for communities of colour — have not had expected or scheduled meetings with anyone in the White House since President Trump took office in January.
The three Initiatives each have their own Presidential Advisory Commissions comprised of a mixture of government officials and public advisors — many of them educators — as well as full-time staff to help carry out the Initiatives’ ongoing projects and objectives. Each have been instrumental in developing community outreach programs, sponsoring summits, and providing internship opportunities for their respective communities; and, many of those efforts remain ongoing even after Trump’s inauguration in January. With regard to the Asian American & Pacific Islander communities, WHIAAPI served as a communications hub that helped coordinate efforts between the federal government and community organizers on topics as wide-ranging as health disparities, language inaccess, data disaggregation, and classroom bullying. Furthermore, WHIAAPI provided unprecedented access for the AAPI community to voice public interest concerns directly to the White House.
However, according to NBC News, none of the White House’s three Presidential Advisory Commissions addressing Black, Hispanic, or AAPI communities have met since January, and there has been no communication between the Trump administration and commission members. The three Initiatives associated with these Commissions have received no direction from the Trump White House on their mission over the four years of the president’s term in office, and indeed, it remains unclear whether the three Initiatives will even continue to exist under the Trump administration.
Asian American advocacy group, National Korean American Service & Education Consortium (NAKASEC), is currently one week into a marathon 22-day vigil in front of the White House. Activists with NAKASEC are protesting Republican efforts to eliminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and the Temporary Protective Status (TPS) programs, two programs that grant protection from deportation and offers work authorization to certain undocumented immigrants.
DACA was implemented in 2012 as a program to provide protection for undocumented immigrants who are current (or recently graduated) students, who have no criminal history, and who who were brought to the United States as young children. Undocumented immigrants registered under DACA — known colloquially as Dreamers — were raised knowing only America as their home. Yet, without deportation protection, they are at-risk of being detained and removed by Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) to a totally unfamiliar country. TPS is a program that provides deportation relief for undocumented immigrants whose lives would be at risk due to war or environmental catastrophe if they were returned to their countries of origin; currently, TPS covers undocumented immigrants from El Savador, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
Earlier this week, President Trump held a press conference in the lobby of Trump Tower, where the president — flanked by Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and Chief Economic Advisor Gary Cohn — delivered an impromptu series of remarks on the weekend’s white supremacist violence in Charlottesville.
It was the President’s third commentary on the neo-Nazi rally in Virginia that left one woman — Heather Heyer, 32, — dead and eighteen others injured after a white supremacist drove his car into a crowd of non-violent counter-protesters. In his initial remarks delivered soon after Heyer’s killing, Trump refused to condemn neo-Nazi demonstrators and instead blamed the violence “on many sides”; he received widespread and bipartisan criticism for the equivocation. The White House was quick to attempt damage control, issuing a tepid statement that attributed condemnation of white supremacists to an unnamed White House representative. On Monday — more than 48 hours after Charlottesville was besieged by white supremacists — Trump also delivered a prepared statement that labeled white supremacists and neo-Nazis as “repugnant”. Again, Trump was widely criticized for offering too little, too late. Within hours of issuing those second comments, Trump returned to Twitter to rail against his critics for being dissatisfied with the remarks.
By Tuesday, Trump was once again ready to give up the charade that he was not on the side of neo-Nazis. In Tuesday’s press conference — ostensibly held to unveil the administration’s latest infrastructure reforms — Trump doubled down on his moral equivalence between violent white supremacists and the counter-protesters who demonstrated against their racism. Manufacturing a supposed “alt-left” (experts agree that the term was invented by conservative media as a slur against leftists), Trump alleged that left-wing activists attacked white supremacists with clubs and provoked the weekend’s violence. Trump concluded his bizarre commentary by undermining his previous day’s remarks and blaming “both sides” for Charlottesville, albeit with more of his moral outrage directed towards leftist counter-protesters.
For a man who has built his entire career around manipulating the media to fuel his own preening self-image, it’s hard to believe that Trump had not planned to issue fresh remarks on Charlottesville on Tuesday. It’s also hard to miss the optics of Tuesday’s press event: Trump stood in steadfast defense of white supremacist terrorists while he surrounded himself with the highest-ranking woman of colour in his administration as well as one of his most senior Jewish American advisors. Trump presented himself alongside Chao and Cohn as if to say: “no matter what spews out of my mouth today, I can’t be accused of being racist; look who my friends are!”