A Japanese reporter questions President Trump. (Photo credit: Screen capture from NBC News video)
In a press conference marked by erratic and un-presidential behaviour, President Trump made racially charged remarks against a Japanese reporter, telling him to “say hello to Shinzo” — the prime minister of Japan — before complaining that he couldn’t understand the reporter’s accent.
The unnamed reporter, who was clearly fluent in English, asked the president about reports that Trump was considering placing punitive tariffs on Japanese auto imports. That’s when Trump made the quip about Prime Minister Abe and the complaint about the reporter’s accent. Trump then defended the idea of US-imposed tariffs on Japan — one of America’s closest allies in the Pacific rim — by complaining of a trade deficit between the two countries.
On February 19, 1942, the White House issued Executive Order 9066 which led to the forcible detention, removal, and incarceration (see JACL’s Power of Words) of 120,000 Japanese and Japanese American citizens in hastily-erected detention centers and concentration camps. Assumed (without evidence) to be Japanese spies, Japanese American men, women, and children were imprisoned without due process behind barbed wire fences. There, entire families were crammed into single-room shacks and held at gunpoint in some of America’s bleakest and most desolate landscapes for over four years.
Fred Korematsu was one of a handful of Japanese Americans who courageously defied Executive Order 9066. Refusing to obey the order that he join other Japanese Americans in reporting for forcible relocation, Korematsu instead went on the run. When he was eventually arrested and charged with refusing the military’s relocation order, Korematsu challenged the constitutionality of Japanese American incarceration. That case – Korematsu v. United States – was found against Fred Korematsu, and it would go on to become a landmark Supreme Court decision; moreover, it would be one decision that most legal scholars now agree was decided in error.
Indeed, earlier this month, the Supreme Court of the United States issued a rare rebuke of its 1944 decision against Korematsu. In the Trump v. Hawaii majority decision, Chief Justice John Roberts said that “Korematsu was gravely wrong the day it was decided,” and invoked the dissent penned by Justice Robert Jackson wherein he described Japanese American incarceration as having “no place in law under the Constitution.”
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 surprise announcement on the 5th anniversary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the Trump administration announced yesterday that it would reverse one of the president’s campaign promises and would instead continue the popular federal program. Founded in 2012, DACA granted renewable permits to undocumented immigrants who had been brought into the United States as children, protecting them from deportation and allowing them to work.
However, yesterday also saw U.S. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly sign a memorandum to roll back a program proposed by the Obama administration in 2014 called Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA). DAPA was intended to provide legal protections for the undocumented parents of American citizens or residents in an effort to not break up immigrant families. That program was never put into place due to legal challenges in federal court filed by 26 states led by Republican governors.
In January, Trump was quoted as saying about undocumented immigrants, “They are here illegally. They shouldn’t be very worried. I do have a big heart. We’re going to take care of everybody.” However, it is clear by yesterday’s dual announcements that the Trump administration is less interested in “taking care of everybody”, and more interested in taking care of Trump’s approval rating.
While the week was dominated with giddy speculation over the true meaning of the word ‘covfefe’, a bigger story deserves our attention: namely, President Donald Trump announced moments ago that the United States will withdraw from the historic Paris climate accord.
Negotiated in 2015 by members of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Paris climate agreement is the world’s first international attempt to slow global climate change by voluntarily limiting the greenhouse gas emissions of member countries. The agreement was set to become effective once 55 countries that emit the majority of the world’s greenhouse gases had signed the treaty; that milestone was reached in April of 2016 when the United States and China — who alone contribute more than 40% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions — joined the Paris climate accord as signatories.
Climate scientists largely agree that the planet is quickly reaching a point-of-no-return when it comes to climate change. Atmospheric carbon dioxide is roughly 400 ppm, ~30% higher than it was in 1950 and at levels never before recorded in the Earth’s history as determined by ice core measurements. Over the last century, the earth’s air and water have both noticeably warmed, and global sea levels have risen 8 inches due in large part to disintegrating polar ice. These changes are predicted to threaten coastal ecologies and urban centers, increase the frequency of extreme weather events, and devastate the world’s food production. While the Paris climate accord will not alone be sufficient to halt and reverse man-made climate change, it is a necessary first step that will likely slow global warming compared to if global gas emissions continues unchecked.