Lessons from Manzanar

Monday, 12 August 2013 15:39

We visited the Japanese Internment Camp at Manzanar, CA over the weekend and were reminded how currently popular government policies can be judged by history to be horribly wrong. Our current immigration policy is such a case.


In 1942, in a spasm of war hysteria, more than 10,000 Americans of Japanese descent were interned at Manzanar a hastily built camp in the desert of California. Two thirds of the detainees were American citizens. There was no evidence of disloyalty or treason among those detained. In 1944 the Supreme Court ruled that President Roosevelt's executive order authorizing the detentions was constitutional. The people supported it, but it wasn't right and history knew.

Forty years later President Reagan signed legislation formally apologizing for the internment and paying reparations. The legislation said that government actions were based on "race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership."

Now connect the dots. In 2013 we are holding a minimum of 30,000 immigrants in detention centers. More than 4000 people have died in the desert trying to reunite with family or follow their dreams. We make it almost impossible for a person born in Monterrey, Mexico to work in Monterey, California. We are deporting more than 50,000 people a month. We deduct Social Security from immigrants pay knowing that they will never be able to collect it. And the courts have said that all of this is okay and many of the people support it.

It sounds like 1942 all over again. And history will judge it in the same way. If we stick with these policies it is not a matter of if we will have to apologize but when. Will our children have to pay reparations or will it be our grandchildren? And make no bones about it unless Congress passes Comprehensive Immigration Reform that allows a reasonable level of future immigration, especially from our neighbors, we will be judged much more harshly than Manzanar.