Japanese American Internment Was Nowhere NEAR The Same As Separating Child Migrants

Wayne Horiuchi | Former legislative advocate

I’m Japanese American and I represented Japanese Americans long ago in Washington, D.C. before Congress and the executive branch of government. I am deeply concerned about the rhetoric that compares the separation of unauthorized migrant children from their parents at the southern U.S. border to the evacuation and internment of Japanese Americans during WWII.

Let’s consider: What happened to Japanese Americans and how is that different from what’s happening now?

Japanese-American parents and children were not separated. Issei, Nisei and Sansei (the terms used for first, second and third generations after immigration to the United Staates) were kept together in small rooms, perhaps as many as six extended family members to a room, five rooms to a barracks, 24 barracks to a block and dozens of blocks to a camp.

I was just at the internment camp in Heart Mountain, Wyoming and saw firsthand the desolation, isolation and harsh existence that Japanese Americans had to endure. I’ve also been to similar camp sites in Topaz, Utah and Tule Lake, California. Those interned moved within the camp, partook in limited social, recreational and religious interests despite captivity behind barbed wire with armed guards in towers above. Internment lasted for as long as three years for many of the detainees.

Immigrants on the southern border are detained for a much shorter period of time but must endure captivity within so-called chain link “tiger cages” as many of the critics wrongly call them. Separation of children and parents is temporary and reunification will occur.

Here, I applaud President Donald Trump for signing the executive order to terminate separation. Already hundreds of children have been reunited with their parents and more reunions will be forthcoming.

You can blame Trump for starting the hysteria. However, he was enforcing existing law as the U.S. Constitution mandates.

Japanese Americans who were relocated and interned to relocation centers were largely U.S. citizens. They attended great universities, worked in meaningful jobs, ran businesses and grew the most beautiful gardens of produce in California, Washington and Oregon. They served in community positions of leadership. Some became famed military members like my father who fought with gallantry in Italy as infantry. My uncle served in the Pacific as a military intelligence officer.

Few if any of today’s incoming immigrants are U.S. citizens. Few are currently employed in American businesses. Few serve in the U.S. military.

You may say that most will ultimately become proud and successful members of our society and culture. But, how can this happen if their first act in America is to break the law by illegally entering into our country and cutting ahead of the line in front of those who are legitimately trying to attain residence or citizenship through our legal immigration process?

In 1942 we didn’t see Japanese Americans break government laws. If anything, we saw Japanese Americans willingly comply with orders of the military and our president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt who issued the order, E.O. 9066. Visible opposition did occur but not outside of the legal framework. In Korematsu v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld E.O. 9066. There was at the time a vigorous debate within the Japanese American community that disputed the orders of evacuation and conscription and advocated resistance. However, it never materialized on a widespread basis. In fact, there was not a single incident of sabotage or espionage by Japanese Americans during all of WWII including in Hawaii where, after Pearl Harbor, the governor refused to consider or allow internment of the Japanese Americans in that state.

To be sure, the immigrants fleeing Honduras, El Salvador or Guatemala are risking their own lives and lives of any accompanying children to come to the United States because they feel it’s their best option. You may say that this is laudable for the courage and determination to seek a better life. However, what’s the entitlement that anyone who wants to come to the United States should be allowed to stay? What’s the risk in the three-month-long journey? What’s the endangerment to the children in transit? Are the parents being responsible by potentially exposing themselves and their children to rapists, drug smugglers, coyotes and the cartels? They are supposed to present themselves at ports of entry to request asylum. Why then to do most get caught elsewhere, if they have a legitimate claim for asylum? Why are a high percentage of the detainees, unaccompanied minors? Why are the majority of the detainees young males, by a ratio of 2 to 1? How many are bringing in drugs and other contraband, as participants in ongoing smuggling across the border? If I were detained while taking such a journey with our three fostered and adopted grand kids, our state’s Child Protective Services would throw me in jail (and separate me from my children).

These are very vexing questions that we need to answer in comprehensive immigration policy. Yet this policy cannot be debated — let alone negotiated — with the kind of disingenuous rhetoric that compares the detained unauthorized migrant with the historical, racist and despicable case of forced evacuation and relocation of the Japanese American from the West Coast during World War II.

Wayne Horiuchi is Japanese American who has represented Japanese Americans before Congress in Washington, D.C. He also served as a legislative advocate representing the railroad industry for 26 years in California and Nevada.


The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.

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