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Immigrants

Homeland insecurity
Today's Middle-Eastern Americans and yeterday's Japanese Americans

April 24, 2003
The Iranian

While today's headlines focus on the war in Iraq, a different kind of war is being waged inside the United States border. Every day, little known media reports indicate that increasingly harsher restrictions and liabilities are being inflicted on persons of Middle-eastern ethnicity, whether they be asylum seekers fleeing from the very country that the United States seeks to liberate, or lawful permanent residents who have adopted this country as their home.

A relative of mine likes to quip that history does not repeat itself, historians do. However, no historian could fail to see the parallels between the current treatment of Middle-Eastern descendants in the United States and the measures taken against Japanese-Americans during World War II.

Like the events of September 11, the attack on Pearl Harbor by Japan took the United States by complete surprise. There was a feeling that the American people had been sucker-punched and this triggered strong, passionate feelings of revenge. The fact that the attackers in both cases represented a mysterious foreign element, the "Yellow menace" in the case of Japanese, and the fanatic Muslims in current events, doubled the anger of the American government and its people.

The statements by media personalities such as Ann Coulter that Americans ought to kill all the Muslim leaders, and forcefully convert their people to Christianity, illustrates yet another brand of fanaticism, no better than the propaganda perpetrated by Mullahs about fighting a religious war against the West.

During World War II, there was a similar feeling against Japanese-Americans, who became the focal point of xenophobic American domestic policy. For example, while similar internment laws were directed at American-Germans, Germany being after all the principal foe in the 1940s' version of the Axis of Evil, they were never enforced. The Japanese-Americans bore the brunt of these xenophobic policies, including citizens whose naturalization documents were illegally revoked.

Similarly to today, the internment phase of Japanese-Americans began with a massive call for registration. Every Japanese-American had to register with the local municipality with names, addresses, immigration status etc. Those were the lists that were used to call Japanese-Americans to various train stations in order to be transferred to various internment camps.

It is interesting that in both cases, the Japanese registration program of the 1940s and the current registration programs implemented against Middle-Easterners, the US government relied on the alleged enemy aliens voluntarily presenting themselves to the authorities. Why would any human being voluntarily give up their liberty when they have not done anything wrong other than being born in an "enemy" country?

I would suggest that this reflects the immigrant mentality and desire to assimilate and conform to their newfound society. Studies show that immigrant communities are often more conservatives than the native born, pushing their children into professional and respectable careers, focusing on hard work and education, taking on jobs even if they are below their qualifications in order to make a living.

Most Middle-Eastern communities within the US are upper and middle-class, demonstrating their desire to succeed and establish themselves in their new country. Similarly, the Japanese-Americans, after years of hard labor, had begun in the 1940s to prosper and become members of the middle-class. Why else would American edicts calling upon Japanese-Americans to present themselves for relocation advise them to leave large belonging such as pianos and refrigerators in storage?

The immigrant mentality to a large part focuses on respecting the laws and societal norms of its new country. They are primarily motivated by their belief that this is the just and fair society that they have chosen when they fled their own dictatorial nightmare. Similarly to Middle-Eastern immigrants, the Japanese's homeland represented a fascist dictatorial system with a thought police that monitored its citizens' every move. As such, Japanese-Americans, much like Middle-Easterners today, chose to keep their trust in the American government to the end.

With the Department of Homeland Security's ever harsher publication of new laws, for example automatically imprisoning asylum-seekers upon arrival based on their country of origin, and the FBI's "voluntary" questioning program of Middle-Eastern immigrants, there is no knowing if any internment program will be received even by a single blink by the American population, least of all by Middle-Eastern immigrants themselves.Some quotes from the World War II era and today:

*** "[t]he Japanese race is an enemy race and while many second and third generation Japanese born on United States soil, possessed of United States citizenship, have become 'Americanized,' the racial strains are undiluted. . . The very fact that no sabotage has taken place to date is a disturbing and confirming indication that such action will be taken."
-- Final Recommendation of Lt. Gen. John DeWitt, the Commanding General, Western Defense Command and Fourth Army, to the Secretary of War (Feb. 14, 1942), quoted in, Hohri v. United States, 782 F.2d 227, 231 (D.C. Cir. 1986), vacated, 482 U.S. 64 (1987).

*** "[a] viper is nonetheless a viper wherever the egg is hatched – so a Japanese American, born of Japanese parents – grows up to be a Japanese, not an American."
-- Los Angeles Times
Editorial (date unknown), see Ronald Takaki, Strangers from a Different Shore, Little, Brown & Co., 388 (1998).

*** "[y]ou needn't worry about the Italians[sic, Italian Americans] at all except in certain cases. Also, the samefor the Germans [sic, German Americans] except in individual cases.But we must worry about the Japanese [American] all the time until he is wiped off the map."
-- Statement of General DeWitt, as quoted by the Commission on Wartime Relocation andInternment of Civilians, Personal Justice Denied: Report of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (Washington DC 1982), Civil Liberties Public Education Fund/University of Washington Press 66 (1997)(citation omitted).

*** "I do not believe that we could be any too strict in our consideration of the Japanese in the face of the treacherous way in which they do things."
-- Leland Ford, L.A. Congressman, in a telegram to Secretary of State Cordell Hull, asking that all Japanese Americans be removed from the West Coast. (January 6, 1942).

*** "Unless something is done it may bring about a repetition of Pearl Harbor."
-- Earl Warren, California Attorney General, calling Japanese Californians the "Achilles heel of the entire civilian defense effort." (January 30, 1942).

*** "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity... We weren't punctilious about locating and punishing only Hitler and his top officers. We carpet-bombed German cities; we killed civilians. That's war. And this is war."
-- Ann Coulter, Town Hall, September 14, 2001.

*** "I think Muhammad was a terrorist."
-- Jerry Falwell, CBS Show 60 Minutes, October 2002.

*** "Western European societies are unprepared for the massive immigration of brown-skinned peoples cooking strange foods and maintaining different standards of hygiene... All immigrants bring exotic customs and attitudes, but Muslim customs are more troublesome than most."
-- Daniel Pipes, New York Post columnist.

*** "America was founded by a people of predominantly English heritage, all speaking the same language, most of whom were second, third, or fourth generation Americans. Jefferson and Adams and Washington were not immigrants, and neither were most of the soldiers who nearly froze to death at Valley Forge."
-- Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Littleton)

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