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Rep. Honda, Survivor of Japanese Internment Camp, Decries Trump Proposal for Muslim Registry

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On Wednesday, heads of the nation’s top technology companies met with President-elect Donald Trump at Trump Tower. Among those attending were Apple CEO Tim Cook, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Amazon CEO Jeffrey Bezos. Wednesday’s meeting reportedly focused on jobs and the economy. But there is another issue that has been getting some attention within the tech world: Donald Trump’s proposal to build a national registry for people from Muslim-majority countries. Hundreds of tech workers have signed on to a pledge titled "Never Again," saying, "We refuse to participate in the creation of databases of identifying information for the United States government to target individuals based on race, religion, or national origin." Twitter became the first major tech company to say it would not participate in the creation of such a database. Facebook has also said it would not help Trump. For more, we speak with California Democratic Congressmember Mike Honda, whose family was placed in Japanese-American internment camps during World War II. He represents California’s 17th District, where Google and Apple are based.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: On Wednesday, heads of the nation’s top technology companies met with President-elect Donald Trump at Trump Tower. Among those attending were Apple CEO Tim Cook, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Amazon CEO Jeffrey Bezos. The meeting was organized by Trump transition team member billionaire Peter Thiel, who famously drove the news website Gawker out of business by secretly bankrolling a controversial lawsuit by wrestler Hulk Hogan against Gawker Media. Wednesday’s meeting reportedly focused on jobs and the economy.

But there is another issue that’s been getting some attention within the tech world: Donald Trump’s proposal to build a national registry for people from Muslim-majority countries. Hundreds of tech workers have signed on to a pledge titled "Never Again," saying, quote, "We refuse to participate in the creation of databases of identifying information for the United States government to target individuals based on race, religion, or national origin."

AMY GOODMAN: Twitter became the first major tech company to say it would not participate in the creation of such a database. Facebook has also said it would not help Trump. A spokesperson for Facebook told CNNMoney, quote, "No one has asked us to build a Muslim registry, and of course we would not do so." Last month, Carl Higbie, a spokesman for the pro-Trump Great America PAC, defended the proposed registry for all Muslim immigrants by citing World War II Japanese internment camps. He spoke with Fox News’s Megyn Kelly.

CARL HIGBIE: We did it during World War II with Japanese, which, you know, call it what you will—

MEGYN KELLY: Come on. You’re not—

CARL HIGBIE: Maybe wrong, but—

MEGYN KELLY: You’re not proposing we go back to the days of internment camps, I hope.

CARL HIGBIE: No, no, no. I’m not proposing that at all, Megyn.

MEGYN KELLY: You know better than to suggest that.

CARL HIGBIE: But what I am saying is that we need to protect America first.

MEGYN KELLY: I mean, that’s the kind of stuff that gets people scared, Carl.

CARL HIGBIE: Right, but it’s—I’m just saying, there is precedent for it. And I’m not saying I agree with it. But in this case, I absolutely believe that a regional-based—

MEGYN KELLY: You can’t be citing Japanese internment camps as precedent for anything the president-elect is going to do.

CARL HIGBIE: Look, the president needs to protect America first. And if that means having people that are not protected under our Constitution have some sort of registry, so we can understand—until we can identify the true threat and where it’s coming from, I support it.

AMY GOODMAN: Among the many to criticize Higbie and the Trump team for proposing to build a Muslim registry is California Democratic Congressman Mike Honda, whose family was placed in a Japanese internment camp during World War II. Honda said in a statement, quote, "These remarks are beyond disturbing. This is fear, not courage. This is hate, not policy." Well, the U.S. government has issued a formal apology and paid reparations to some of the more than 120,000 Japanese Americans who were interned, two-thirds of whom were U.S. citizens.

To talk more about one of the most shameful chapters in U.S. history, we go to Capitol Hill, where we are joined by Congressman Honda, who is a representative of California’s 17th District.

Congressman Mike Honda, welcome to Democracy Now!

REP. MIKE HONDA: Good morning.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about your own experience. When were you put in a Japanese internment camp? Where were you? Who was in your family?

REP. MIKE HONDA: Well, I was the infant, the first child of my parents back in—born in 1941. So, by the time February 19, 1942, rolled around, I was almost a year old. And I think that it was not only my family, but the entire 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry were removed from the West Coast into internment camps. And it was a massive, focused, probably the highest racial profiling that this country has ever exercised, through Executive Order 9066.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Congressman Honda, do you think internment camps of those kind can be set up again in the U.S.?

REP. MIKE HONDA: Oh, absolutely, they can be. And, you know, they talked about—not only about, you know, the current situation, but in the past few years, politicians and other folks have been talking about using interment camp types of approach to refugees and undocumented folks, during the debate of the comprehensive immigration reform. So, it’s a concept and a strategy that a lot of people use.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, in an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos last year, Trump defended his proposal for a total and complete ban on Muslims entering the United States. He compared it to the detention of Japanese Americans, Germans and Italians under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt during World War II.

DONALD TRUMP: What I’m doing is no different than what FDR—FDR’s solution for Germans, Italians, Japanese, you know, many years ago.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: So you’re for internment camps?

DONALD TRUMP: This is a president who was highly respected by all. He did the same thing. If you look at what he was doing, it was far worse. I mean, he was talking about the Germans because we’re at war. We are now at war.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, Congressman Honda, can you respond to Donald Trump explicitly citing Japanese internment camps as a possible model?

REP. MIKE HONDA: Well, the reason that we came up with, through the process of HR 442, an apology that President Reagan has signed, that the Japanese-American community had fought for for 10 years, stated that there was three reasons why these camps have occurred: racial profiling, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership. And basically, what the president-elect is saying could be—well, in my opinion, would be a failure of political leadership, not only based upon ignorance—well, it wouldn’t even be ignorance, because he already knows about it. It’s just completely irrational and stupid, if I may use that word, because what he’s talking about as Muslims, that’s a religion, you know, encompassing many, many ethnic groups, from Indonesians, Filipinos, to the people in the Middle East. Muslim, Islam is a very large population. We’re talking about Japanese Americans, Germans and Italians; that was a very—we were very specific groups. But racial profiling and profiling based upon religion, they’re both wrong. And in this country, we should be protected under the Constitution. So, I think that he was using a lot of this stuff not only to create fear, but to create a lot of intensity in terms of people looking at us, and it’s just—it’s just creating a lot of animosity and undue fear among people in this country. And so, programs like this will be very important so that we educate people and make sure that they understand that that’s the wrong way, wrong step, wrong direction, and it’s very un-American.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Congressman Honda, on Wednesday, the heads of the nation’s top technology companies, including Apple, Facebook and Amazon, met with President-elect Donald Trump. And you’re the representative of California’s 17th District, where Google and Apple are based. What’s your message to these technology companies?

REP. MIKE HONDA: Well, first of all, I just want to say, the employees who had said "never again," I want to take my hat off to them and also ask them to continue to advocate and educate people one on one. And that’s one of the ways that we can turn this tide around.

To the corporate leaders, I would hope that they will use the same common sense about how to go about creating policies and advising the country, the leaders of this country, what direction to take and how to do that. The kind of things that we’re talking about, it’s not only about immigration, but it’s also about the very foundation that this country has been founded upon. And that’s making sure that all people who are on this soil are protected under the Constitution. And hopefully, when the president-elect takes his oath on January 20th, he understands that he’s taking an oath to the Constitution and not to the government. And that means that he is swearing an oath to protect all of us here in this country against all enemies, foreign and domestic. And that includes folks who would misstep in protecting our country and protecting our citizens of this country under the title of national security. I just hope that we understand that clearly and make that clear distinction.

AMY GOODMAN: Last month, Congressman Honda, a member of Donald Trump’s transition team, the Kansas secretary of state, Kris Kobach, who is still being considered for a top job, said the team is moving ahead with plans to reinstate a registry for immigrants from majority-Muslim countries. He’s the architect of anti-immigration laws in this country. Following 9/11, he helped design the registry for immigrants from majority-Muslim countries, known as the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, the system dropped in 2011 after years of criticism from civil rights groups. Congressman Honda, you also voiced your opposition to this program in a letter to President Obama?

REP. MIKE HONDA: Yes. The idea of a Muslim registry, if you will, is, I think, in my mind, as a nonconstitutional person—I’m not a constitutional attorney, but it seems to me that it would be unconstitutional. And people will say, "Well, it’s under the immigration laws, and all we’re going to do is be looking at registering folks who are not citizens." But if we remember the experience of the Japanese Americans, the poster that assembled us and took us out of our homes and our neighborhoods and our communities, it said "all persons of Japanese ancestry, aliens and non-aliens alike." The government, even at that time, didn’t have the courage to say "citizens and noncitizens." And in my mind, all persons who are on this soil have the protection of the Constitution. They may say, "Well, it’s under our constitutional purview to be able to do this and be able to register and keep an eye on all persons who are not citizens." But it’s what you do with that registry, what concerns me. And in World War II, when they gathered us up, they broke—the government broke the law again by using the census data, and the census data is supposed to be private. So, I think that we still have to be vigilant about what our government does.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Very quickly—

REP. MIKE HONDA: And—go ahead.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Very quickly, Congressman Honda, before we conclude, over the course of the campaign, Trump also repeatedly called Syrian refugees terrorists. Can you tell us about the legislation you’ve just introduced, the Save the Children Act?

REP. MIKE HONDA: Certainly. The legislation is HR 6510, 65-10. And the point of that legislation is to be able to put a marker on for the next Congress and to let people know that we’re concerned about children between the ages of three and 10, and we want to be able to protect them and offer families who have children between ages of three and 10, or orphans, to be able to be brought here for temporary security and comfort, and be able to keep them out of the harm’s way. We must do that, if we say that we are charitable or even concerned about what’s going on overseas in Syria. What can be more American than to say to the youngsters and the families, "Give us your children. We’ll hold them, and we’ll watch them, we’ll take care of them, temporarily, until the civil war is over"? And I think that that’s something that we should be able to do. We’re a country with limitless resources, and yet our efforts seem to be falling way short of the things that we can do as possibility, and this is one of them.

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