The 75th Anniversary of E.O. 9066 Is a Solemn Reminder to Fight Back Against the Trump Administration’s Fearmongering

Oakland, Calif., Mar. 1942. A large sign reading "I am an American" placed in the window of a store on December 8, the day after Pearl Harbor. The store was eventually closed after the issuance of E.O. 9066. (Photo: Dorothea Lange)

Seventy-five years ago, in one of the darkest moments in American history, President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066. Immediately, the federal government began forcing 110,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry into concentration camps for fear they posed a threat to national security.

For many years, we have recognized the infamous date of the order, February 19, 1942, with a “Day of Remembrance” at ceremonies throughout the nation designed to ensure that this indelible stain on our democracy is never forgotten. It is ordinarily a solemn occasion and a day of reflection. But on this day, the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066, our current anti-Muslim crisis sounds a chilling echo of that earlier injustice, which must not be ignored. This year we are called to transform our quiet reflection into a fierce resistance.  

No previous anniversary has been more important or more ominous. The 75th anniversary serves as a timely reminder of both the fragility of our democracy and the grave danger that we currently confront.

The Muslim community does not stand alone. Instead an inspiring nationwide protest movement has boldly stood up to confront Trump's policies. 

When President Roosevelt issued this order in 1942, the resistance was meek and the protest was mute. Japanese Americans stood virtually alone as they were literally rounded up from their homes and businesses and imprisoned in concentration camps. Only a handful of organizations and individuals publicly opposed the order.  It was wartime, and few institutions were willing to risk being labeled “Un-American.”

Perhaps more importantly, anti-Japanese American sentiment assumed that the danger of disloyalty was inherent in the ancestry of these Americans because they “looked like the enemy.” In turn, this fear was whipped into a xenophobic fervor by government officials’ cynical use of “alternative facts,” which were later proven to be deliberate lies offered to justify these racist policies as a “wartime necessity.”           

Seventy-five years later, we confront a president who is promulgating hateful anti-Muslim policies and similar propaganda about the dangers of disloyalty, linking that to the threat of terrorism, which is once again deeply rooted in racism and xenophobia. But there is a sharp difference in the current crisis — today’s resistance is far from meek. Rather it is intense and vigorous.

The Muslim community does not stand alone. Instead an inspiring nationwide protest movement has boldly stood up to confront Trump's policies. In fact, this protest, working in tandem with aggressive legal advocacy, has forced the president to back down in the face of judicial decisions challenging the constitutionality of his Muslim ban.

After three weeks of protest and legal action, he has been forced to return to the drawing board. This is unlikely to be the end of this misguided policy, but simply a pause. But our success so far has meant tens of thousands of visa holders — people the administration was determined to ban from this country because of their faith and national origin — are now able to travel to the United States. The resistance mounted against this anti-Muslim policy has, at the very least, significantly slowed the inhumane machinery that the president once thought was unstoppable. 

Several years ago, I had the great privilege of standing with Fred Korematsu and his family on the Day of Remembrance to light candles and to speak about the fight for justice. It is a memory I treasure today. Fred Korematsu was the courageous American who defied this unjust order and was arrested and jailed.    

I have no doubt that if Fred Korematsu were still alive during this current crisis he would once again be standing with us — by our side in court, at the airport in protest, or marching to protect the rights of immigrants. Fred Korematsu with the ACLU of Northern California, ultimately took his own case challenging the incarceration order to the U.S. Supreme Court, teaching us that resistance and protest along with litigation can, over time, change the course of history. Now a new and growing movement of activists and lawyers is taking up this challenge with effective new tools and remarkable passion.

But there remain extraordinary dangers ahead.

This administration is promulgating or threatening many proposals cut from the same cloth as Executive Order 9066. This coming week, the administration has said it will release its successor executive order designed to reactivate the Muslim ban, perhaps using more palatable language. The Trump administration is also conducting aggressive immigration raids across the country that seem to be a harbinger of even more draconian actions to come. On Saturday, draft homeland security memos signed by Gen. Kelly and obtained by McClatchy show an administration intent on ignoring due process, deputizing state and law authorities, and setting up an enormous dragnet to carry out mass deportations of undocumented immigrants, including children.

The ACLU, in alliance with many other organizations, stands ready to challenge these actions. Our commitment to do so truly honors and respects those Americans whom we remember on this solemn day. 

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Sondra Summers

I applaud the ACLU for refusing to let us, as a Democratic nation, forget the dark day in our history. Never Again!

Sondra Summers

I applaud the ACLU for refusing to let us, as a Democratic nation, forget the dark day in our history. Never Again!

Anonymous

So this would be a good comparison if TR gathered up Japanese from 10% of Japanese counties designated by McKinley as potentially dangerous ones.

Nice job causing unnecessary fear divide and hate with this article. Very liberal of you.

Anonymously bet...

What an idiot! Can you not see historical comparisons in their true light? There are "camps" in Texas where Hispanics are being gathered to export. Yes, it is a secluded base, yes, it does have a railroad next to it, and yes yes yes. where does this end? Remember.... "I turned my back when they took my friends. I turned my back when they started taking my relatives. When I turned to face the terror, it was too late....". I am a white, senior, female born and raised in Texas. I am not liberal, I am not conservative. and I AM NOT BLIND TO the atrocities of democracy we're facing with our new dictator. You are obviously a white man, no doubt about it. Good article ACLU, you are not a divider, you are a SENTRY to Human Rights.

Anonymous

Great article, shame you did not understand it

Allison

Thanks ACLU for reminding us of this anniversary. How chilling that the current US presidential administration is still pushing intolerance ... 75 years later. Great photo with this article too.

Anonymous

First of all, causing unnecessary fear and hate is not what liberals do. It is, however, exactly what the Trump administration is doing. Pay attention. Secondly, the interred Japanese were potentially dangerous, were they? Wrong. I worked at the National Archives. It was my job to take the files of those 110,000 imprisoned people and take steps to better preserve them, because they were deteriorating badly. I went through each and every folder. The folders that were unusually thick, which meant they belonged to a suspicious person, I could count on one hand. The vast, vast majority of those files belonged to ordinary, regular, innocent folks who were forced to give up everything for the crime of being Japanese. What was done to them was inexcusable and morally bankrupt.

Anonymous

Are you serious, he is neither interning them or putting them in concentration camps. He is simply not allowing them to come to the country in droves without a legitimate reason and through background check. I usually like the stuff that ACLU produces but this article is a horrible analogy of the current situation and quite frankly the worst article I have read from the ACLU.

There needs to be a balance, that is what this is about. I do not believe in discrimination in any manner, but there is no right to come to this country. Think of this country as your house, then make the same analogies. Would you let strangers into your house that are potentially hostile? Or would you first get to know them and what they believe in?

If they truly do not want to do harm to the people in our house, our country in this instance then let them come if they are willing to learn the customs and follow the laws. Do not assume that is their intent automatically though when they come from a country and a culture that is anti American.

I think he has the right idea to better vet the people coming into the country, and it is not based solely on religion color sex etc. It is based on the countries anti American sentimentality!

Your knee jerk response portrays the wrong message to people, how about some better journalism here?

Anonymous

Your writing is just repeating beck what you have read or listened to in right wing news, I have heard your analogy many times as a defense against immigration this week, but hearing it does not make what Trumps bullies are doing ethical.

Anonymous

Your writing is just repeating back what you have read or listened to in right wing news, I have heard your analogy many times as a defense against immigration this week, but hearing it does not make what Trumps bullies are doing ethical.

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