Karen Korematsu: “My Father Resisted Japanese Internment. Trump’s Travel Ban Is Just as Unfair”

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The U.S. Supreme Court looks poised to uphold President Trump’s travel ban, which blocks most people from seven countries—including Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen—from entering the United States. During oral arguments on Wednesday, Justice Anthony Kennedy appeared to side with the conservative side of the court. Lower courts have repeatedly ruled against versions of Trump’s travel ban, saying they were unconstitutional and in violation of federal immigration law. Among those who have asked the Supreme Court to rule the travel ban unconstitutional are the children of Japanese Americans who were interned during World War II.

Joining us now is one of those children: Karen Korematsu, daughter of civil rights icon Fred Korematsu, who was jailed for refusing orders to be sent to an internment camp set up for U.S. residents of Japanese ancestry. His case went all the way to the Supreme Court. Last year Karen Korematsu wrote an op-ed for The Washington Post headlined “My father resisted Japanese internment. Trump’s travel ban is just as unfair.” For more, we speak with Karen Korematsu, founder and executive director of the Fred T. Korematsu Institute.

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

AMY GOODMAN: “Paper Moon” by Frances “Chickie” White. She began her singing career in a Japanese internment camp at the age of 15 years old. This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman.

The U.S. Supreme Court looks poised to uphold President Trump’s travel ban, which blocks most people from seven countries, including Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen, from entering the United States. During oral arguments on Wednesday, Justice Anthony Kennedy appeared to side with the conservative side of the court. Lower courts have repeatedly ruled against versions of Trump’s travel ban, saying they were unconstitutional and in violation of federal immigration law.

Among those who have asked the Supreme Court to rule the travel ban unconstitutional are the children of Japanese Americans who were interned during World War II. Joining us now is one of those children, Karen Korematsu, daughter of civil rights icon Fred Korematsu, who was detained for refusing orders to be sent to an internment camp set up for U.S. residents of Japanese ancestry. His case went all the way to the Supreme Court.

Last year, Karen Korematsu wrote an op-ed for The Washington Post headlined “My father resisted Japanese internment. Trump’s travel ban is just as unfair.” In the op-ed, she wrote, Trump’s travel ban “echoes the World War II incarceration camps separating those of a different ethnicity under the guise of national security. Both executive orders under Trump and Roosevelt target and discriminate against minorities, tear families apart and preach intolerance. And I believe we’ll soon see they are found to be unconstitutional,” unquote.

For more, we go to Austin, Texas, where Karen Korematsu joins us, founder and executive director of the Fred T. Korematsu Institute.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Karen. Explain what happened to your father and why you see this so closely correlated with what’s happened in the Supreme Court this week.

KAREN KOREMATSU: Good morning, Amy. It’s good to be with you. Thank you for bringing focus to this issue and to my father. He thought, in 1942, that the Executive Order 9066, that was hastily issued, I might add, by President Roosevelt, violated our civil rights as Americans. All due process of law was denied, and he thought it was wrong, as an American citizen, to be incarcerated when he had done nothing wrong. And so, that’s why he fought his case all the way to the Supreme Court.

AMY GOODMAN: And talk about what happened to you.

KAREN KOREMATSU: Well, I learned about my father’s Supreme Court case actually in high school, when my friend was giving a book report about the Japanese-American incarceration camps. And then she said, “But there was this one man that resisted the military orders, and it ended up to be a landmark Supreme Court case called Korematsu v. the United States.” And she didn’t say “Fred” at the time, and it wasn’t until after class that she said that that was about my father.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about your internment, Karen.

KAREN KOREMATSU: Well, I wasn’t actually born in one of the camps at the time. I became aware, of course, with my father telling me, after I learned about this in school. And when the evidence was found in 1983 that proved that there was no military necessity for the Japanese Americans to be incarcerated, his case was reopened under a kind of little-known legal term called coram nobis, which means an error has been made before the court. And a legal team took on the case as pro bono work, and my father’s federal conviction was overturned or vacated in 1983. But it still stands on the Supreme Court record. And that’s the warning, that after all this time, next year will be the 75th anniversary of my father’s Supreme Court case. And this is the caution that we wanted the courts to be reminded of.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to a clip from the documentary produced by Eric Paul Fournier. It’s called Of Civil Rights and Wrongs: The Fred Korematsu Story [sic].

FRED KOREMATSU: You know, one day my girlfriend wanted to meet me. I was waiting for her at the corner, and she didn’t show up. I ran out of cigarettes, so, like a darn fool, I went across the street to the drugstore. And someone recognized me, I assume, because when I came back, and I was standing there for another five minutes, then the police came. And they looked around, and they looked at me and says, “Did you see any short Japanese person around here? Asian?” And I said, “No.” He looked at me and says, “Well, let me see your identification.” By that time, the two MPs came from the military. And he says, “We have to take you to the city hall.” After I was arrested, I never did see my girlfriend again. So, there must have been something going on in there, but I didn’t know.

AMY GOODMAN: Karen Korematsu, talk more about what Fred Korematsu is saying, your father.

KAREN KOREMATSU: Well, actually, I’d like to correct—the title is Of Civil Wrongs and Rights. And then my brother, Ken Korematsu, was also co-producer of the two-time Emmy Award documentary. And so, like I said, my father thought it was wrong to be put in prison when when he had not violated any laws. And so, he never gave up hope that someday he would be able to reopen his case.

And the result of the 1983 decision was governmental misconduct, and that’s what relates to the executive order and what’s happening with the Muslim travel ban now. And that’s what we’re wanting the court to be aware of and to stop repeating history. It’s important that we remind the courts that there needs to be a separation between judicial and executive. And it’s an overreach, we feel, on the president’s part. And being in the Supreme Court on Wednesday and to hear the justices and the argument was really alarming, in some ways, because they could have addressed a lot more of the situations that are immigration violations and people’s civil rights and civil liberties that we want to uphold.

AMY GOODMAN: Neal Katyal, who is the attorney representing the state of Hawaii in the Supreme Court this week, tweeted, quoting your amicus brief, “The govt’s arguments in this case bear a disturbing similarity to the arguments this Court accepted in Korematsu, Hirabayashi&Yasui.” Explain ultimately what happened to the case, from federal court to the Supreme Court, and also the compensation, after decades, that Japanese Americans got. Were you one of those, as a child of someone who ultimately was jailed for resisting the interment camps, who got that kind of compensation?

KAREN KOREMATSU: The case, as I said, was my father’s Supreme Court case. And Hirabayashi and Yasui were also reopened under the coram nobis procedure. So, the convictions, the personal convictions, were—and federal convictions, were vacated. But the Supreme Court case still stands.

And as I said, I wasn’t born in one of the incarceration camps. Only people that were. However, by the time that the—actually, to bring recognition that this year is the 30th anniversary of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, that was the official apology to everyone of Japanese ancestry that was incarcerated. And there was reparations, but it was really the apology that everyone wanted. But you had to be living, and so people like my grandparents, who had passed away, you know, there was nothing that they would have received, and it didn’t go to the families per se, only those to that were living. But the important reason that the reparations was needed was for education, so that’s when the Civil Liberties Public Education Fund, originally sanctioned by Congress, was started, so that we could educate future generations about, you know, really, the inhumanity of the incarceration and what’s happening today.

AMY GOODMAN: Karen Korematsu, I want to thank you for being with us, daughter of Fred Korematsu, head of the Fred T. Korematsu Institute.

That does it for our show. A correction: It was Yip Harburg and Harold Arlen who wrote the song “Paper Moon.”

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