Decades after Japanese-American civil rights leaders challenged the U.S. government’s discrimination against people of Japanese descent, their families are fighting President Donald Trump’s travel ban.
The children of Gordon Hirabayashi, Fred Korematsu and Minoru Yasui ― three activists who took legal action against the government for its treatment of Japanese-Americans during World War II ― filed an amicus brief on Monday opposing the ban, which affects refugees and others from six Muslim-majority countries.
Previously, the Trump administration defended its executive order, calling it a “national security directive” and arguing that other government powers shouldn’t question the president on such matters.
“Federal courts may not second-guess the political branches’ decisions to exclude aliens abroad,” the administration asserted.
But the descendents of Hirabayashi, Korematsu and Yasui warn that if the Supreme Court sides with the administration’s view, justices run the risk of repeating history.
“In 1943 and 1944, the high court failed to closely scrutinize the government’s case that the treatment of Japanese-Americans was based on “military necessity” – which was a smokescreen for racist anti-Japanese policies,” Holly Yasui, Minoru’s daughter, wrote to HuffPost. She is joined in the brief by Jay Hirabayashi and Karen Korematsu.
“We want the court to review closely the current government’s claims of ‘national security’ – which I believe is being used as a justification for anti-Muslim policy,” Yasui wrote.
Donald K. Tamaki, an attorney working on behalf of the children of Hirabayashi, Korematsu and Yasui, told HuffPost that the current administration’s defense harks back to the government’s attitude toward Japanese-Americans decades ago. The amicus brief describes the events surrounding then-President Franklin Roosevelt’s Executive Order No. 9066, which essentially enforced a wartime curfew that applied only to Japanese-Americans and ultimately enabled their imprisonment during World War II.
Hirabayashi, Korematsu and Yasui all defied the military-enforced orders, and their cases reached the Supreme Court. But in all three cases, the court failed to scrutinize the executive branch’s decision. In the Korematsu case, the court ruled that the wartime incarceration was a “military necessity.”
With the court’s “near complete deference” to the executive branch, it “abdicated its critical role in safeguarding fundamental freedoms,” the brief says.
“The administration is asking the court again to stand down ... in the name in national security,” Tamaki said in regards to the travel ban. “What we’re worried about is if the court becomes a rubber stamp in this instance, what happens next?”
“If good people don’t speak out, history could certainly repeat itself. And Asian-Americans should be part of that.”
Several Asian-American and civil rights organizations, including Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, and the Japanese American Citizens League-Honolulu Chapter also joined the amicus brief. The participants are not only looking to right the wrongs of the past, but also make sure that discrimination based on ethnicity never happens again.
Given Asian-Americans’ history in the country, Tamaki stresses that the descendants of Hirabayashi, Korematsu and Yasui, as well as members of the greater Asian-American community, are specially positioned to speak up against Trump’s travel ban.
“We have a unique role to play here. It’s happened to our communities ― whether it’s immigrants being singled out to Japanese-Americans losing their freedom because they happen to look like the enemy,” he said. “These three children and the rest of the Asian-American community have something to say about the country and where it’s going.”
Citing the travel ban as well as the recent violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, Tamaki says that the public cannot afford to remain inactive on issues of race and discrimination.
“We’ve got politicians who are building their careers on demonizing immigrant groups and foreigners and people who look like foreigners in the name of national security,” he said. “If good people don’t speak out, history could certainly repeat itself. And Asian-Americans should be part of that.”
While the Supreme Court recently lifted some restrictions on Trump’s ban, the justices are scheduled to hear arguments on the overall order on Oct. 10.