Now is the Time to Reaffirm America’s Promise: Stand Against the Ban

In just a few weeks, our great country will mark the 75th anniversary of President Roosevelt’s executive order authorizing the internment of hundreds of thousands of Japanese, German, and Italian Americans during World War II.

They were rounded up with their families and held behind barbed wire like war criminals. But they had done nothing wrong. Their crime: being Japanese, German, or Italian. They were labeled “enemy aliens.”

A picture of the Honouliuli Internment Camp in Hawai‘i.

Mark Twain reportedly said that history doesn’t repeat itself but it does rhyme. And this seems to be the path the president has pursued with his Muslim ban.

This ban has already harmed green card holders, students, business people, and those fleeing violence and persecution. Remember these are the people fleeing the violence, not the perpetrators of the violence— they are the victims, not the criminals .

Protesters greet passengers at the Dulles International Airport on January 29, 2017. [Photo credit: Geoff Livingston]

They have been pulled from their flights, left stranded in airports. They have been detained without the ability to talk with a lawyer.

They are wondering if the United States of America is still the beacon of hope, the lamp by the golden door, the shining city on the hill.

Iraqis who risked their lives to serve our country as translators saw their visas revoked. An 11 month old baby was detained.

That’s disgusting. It’s un-American. It is contrary to everything we stand for. We stand for providing refuge for those who want to escape their own awful circumstances and live in freedom and opportunity.

It’s my grandparents escaping Ukraine. It’s my wife’s grandparents leaving China. It’s the Schatzes; it’s the Binders; it’s the Kwoks. It’s Albert Einstein. It’s Madeleine Albright.

This is who we are. We are people from all over the world who are united not by ethnic extraction or religious affiliation but tied together by our love for America.

Senator Brian Schatz speaks about the Muslim ban on the Senate floor January 30, 2017.

And here’s the thing: it’s not even as though we are trading liberty for security. We are getting no additional security — this is all about being cruel to Muslims because it’s good politics for some folks. This isn’t just morally wrong, it’s also guaranteed not to work.

First, zero people from the countries on the ban list have been involved in terrorist attacks in America. It’s almost as though the criteria for picking the countries is something other than the threat of terrorism.

Second, this ban has the potential to strengthen violent extremist groups, by playing right into their hands. It encourages everyone to be afraid of people we don’t know from other places. That’s not American and it won’t work.

When President Gerald Ford repealed the executive order interning Japanese Americans, he asked the America to make a pledge.

President Gerald Ford signed Proclamation #4417, which repealed Executive Order #9066 authorizing the internment of the Japanese during World War II on February 19, 1976,. [Photo credit: Gerald R. Ford presidential library]

“I call upon the American people to affirm with me this American Promise — that we have learned from the tragedy of that long-ago experience forever to treasure liberty and justice for each individual American, and resolve that this kind of action shall never again be repeated.”

That promise is being broken. It’s broken for the American who came to this country as a Lost Boy from Sudan, and who now cannot see his family. It’s broken for the American now separated from his Iranian wife. It’s broken for the millions of Americans who want us to always have the moral high ground.

The world is watching. History is watching. And we have to ask ourselves — what do they see? Do they see Lady Liberty? Or do they see something darker? The choice is ours. We can fix this.

And we start by following the wise words of Fred Korematsu, an outspoken voice against Japanese internment and an American hero.

He said: “Protest, but not with violence, and don’t be afraid to speak up.”

Today, I call on every member of the U.S. Senate to follow this advice. Speak up. And stand against this ban and fight chaos and paranoia as official government policy.