“Democracy is a fragile concept. Only as good as the people who practice it.” — Sue Kunitomi Embrey
The Manzanar Committee condemns the Trump Administration and the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) move to send federal agents into major cities around the country. It is a blatant attack on the movement for Black lives and the struggle for racial justice. It is unconstitutional and demonstrates how fragile our democracy is.
The fragility and the preciousness of civil and constitutional rights to our democracy is one of the most important lessons to be drawn from the forced removal of 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry during World War II. The Manzanar Committee condemns these fascist tactics and opposes the deployment of federal agents to our cities to attack and suppress the movement for Black lives.
The use of unidentified, uniformed secret police in Washington, D.C., Portland, Ore. and other cities by DHS, including Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) tactical units, where protestors were attacked, grabbed off the streets, thrown into unmarked vehicles, and detained with no charges, is shockingly reminiscent of what our government did to our community following the attack on Pearl Harbor. These federal agents have employed tactics used by brutal, fascist dictatorships.
Constitutional safeguards, habeas corpus, and civil liberties underpinned the forced removal and incarceration of the Japanese American community during World War II. Our families were detained by federal troops and removed from our homes, schools, and communities without charges. Many Issei community leaders, the first Japanese immigrants, were simply arrested and detained in camps or sent to prisons like Fort Sill, Okla., Tuna Canyon, Calif., and Fort Missoula, Mont., in the days following the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
There were no charges or due process. Rather, they were simply detained and isolated far from their homes. Families were torn apart and the community lived in fear, not knowing why or where their family members were being held.
Our government’s forced removal of people of Japanese descent during WWII was not confined to the U.S. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) moved into Latin America, especially Peru, where Japanese Latin Americans were forcibly removed without cause and incarcerated at Crystal City, Texas. They were essentially to be used as hostages, to be traded for U.S. nationals or prisoners of war held by Japan.
These authoritarian tactics highlight the questionable and basic undemocratic foundation of the DHS, Immigration Control and Enforcement (ICE), and CBP. For decades, civil libertarians, leaders from the Muslim community, immigrant rights activists, and elected officials have warned that these agencies pose a threat to our democracy.
Just this week, ICE and the DOJ refused, despite the order of a federal judge, to release children and families from detention. Cruel and unusual punishment of immigrants and especially children is the pattern and practice of this administration.
Xenophobia, racism, and calls for law and order have long been the hallmark of political dictators and demagogues. From the days Europeans landed on the shores of this country, people of color have been dehumanized to justify colonial expansion. Non-existent threats to “our way of life” led to racist and anti-immigrant laws beginning with the forced removal and genocide of Native Americans, to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and Executive Order 9066 to Trump’s Muslim ban.
Illegal and unconstitutional attacks on dissidents are not new. The Palmer raids of the 1920s to McCarthyism of the 1950s, and J. Edgar Hoover’s attacks on Martin Luther King, Jr., the Black Panther Party, and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and 1970s are a matter of historical record. Abusive, illegal practices of federal law enforcement agencies today are no different. This shows the abuse of federal power is a long standing problem for our democracy.
The events of recent days are part of the abject cruelty and the basic inhumanity this administration directs towards immigrants and people incarcerated in our prisons. These abuses call into question the very underlying legal framework and overall purpose of many of these federal agencies.
Survivors and descendants of America’s concentration camps need to remind our nation how fragile democracy is. Federal agents from DHS, ICE, and CBP do not belong on the streets of our cities. This alarming practice must be condemned and opposed by all people who value democracy.