Fred Korematsu was 23 when he defied the order sending him to an internment camp.
He was one of 120,000 Japanese immigrants and Americans detained by the federal government under Executive Order 9066. He fought his case all the way to the Supreme Court.
Korematsu v. United States — in which the Supreme Court ruled that the internment was justified — was never overturned.
Not even after President Gerald Ford formally terminated Executive Order 9066; not after President Ronald Reagan provided each detainee with financial redress; not even after President Bill Clinton awarded Korematsu with the Presidential Medal of Freedom did the Supreme Court overturn its ruling upholding the internment of Japanese Americans.
That all changed Tuesday, when the Supreme Court finally repudiated Korematsu v. United States, writing that it “was gravely wrong” — at the same time that it upheld Trump’s discriminatory Muslim ban.
It was painful irony, especially for Korematsu’s daughter.
“Racial profiling was wrong in 1942 and racial profiling and religious profiling is wrong in 2018,” Karen Korematsu told The Washington Post. “The Supreme Court traded one injustice for another 74 years later.”
Using the “same dangerous logic underlying Korematsu,” wrote Justice Sonia Sotomayor in a powerful dissent, the Supreme Court “blindly accept[ed] the government’s misguided invitation to sanction a discriminatory policy motivated by animosity toward a disfavored group, all in the name of a superficial claim of national security.”
Or, as Karen neatly summarized it, the court allowed the government to “racially profil[e] a group because they looked like the enemy.”
It’s not the only parallel between the Trump administration’s actions and the incarceration of people President Franklin D. Roosevelt deemed “alien enemies.”
Once targeted, Japanese Americans were interned for over four years. They were held in converted racetracks, fairgrounds and horse stables in camps mostly west of the Rocky Mountains. Korematsu himself was held in a horse stall with a single light bulb.
“Jail was better than this,” he told one biographer.
Their trauma, according to psychotherapist Satsuki Ina, herself born in an internment camp, is all too familiar. As she detailed for Splinter:
They have no idea how long they’re going to be held. They have no idea if they’ll ever see their parents again. That level of anxiety causes tremendous emotional stress, and we know from the research in neuroscience that constant release of these stress hormones can affect a child’s ability to learn, a child’s ability to self-manage, to regulate themselves. The long-term impact that I’ve seen in my own Japanese American community is this hyper-vigilance … a reaction to having been incarcerated unjustly. This kind of treatment has consequences for a lifetime for a child. The trauma effect is pretty severe when there’s been captivity trauma. We were unjustly incarcerated when we weren’t guilty of anything.
Today, people across the country will rally to protest Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy toward migrants who cross the border. We’re partnering with the ACLU and the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice to host the Families Belong Together rally here in Montgomery, Alabama, as well as in Atlanta and Washington, D.C.
When thousands of Japanese Americans were being removed from their classrooms, from their jobs, and their neighborhoods, there was no outcry. No one instituted any kind of protest. … My hope is that people will know how important it is to stand up for the injustice that’s happening right now.
We couldn’t agree more.
P.S. Here are some other pieces we think are valuable this week:
- White extinction anxiety by Charles M. Blow for The New York Times
- Buried truths by Hank Klibanoff for WABE
- After a white cop shot a black man, he sued the city for racial discrimination by Albert Samaha for BuzzFeed
- As goes the South, so goes the nation by Imani Perry for Harper's Magazine
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AP Photo, 1941