Muratsuchi Introduces Bill Seeking $3M for Civil Liberties Education Grants

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Rights leaders support greater public awareness of WWII JA incarceration.

Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi announces Assembly Bill 491 which would provide $3 million for civil liberties education programs on Wednesday in Sacramento. He is joined by former Rep. Mike Honda (left) and Basim Elkarra, executive director of Council on American-Islamic Relations.

SACRAMENTO — Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi (D-Torrance) on Wednesday called for $3 million in grants to the State Library for educational activities and materials on civil liberties and the World War II Japanese American incarceration.

He made his remarks at a Capitol press conference, where he stood with colleagues from the State Assembly and leaders from the Muslim, Asian Pacific Islander, Jewish and Latino communities in solidarity to ensure that history doesn’t repeat itself in the Trump era.

Muratsuchi’s Assembly Bill (AB) 491 would ensure that more Californians could learn these historical lessons.

“We have to remember that the incarceration of over 120,000 Japanese Americans without any due process of law began with an executive order, much like the ones that President Trump has been issuing,” said Muratsuchi. “Today, President Trump is issuing executive orders targeting Muslims and refugees as national security threats, just as Japanese Americans were targeted during World War II. Now, more than ever, every American needs to learn the lessons of the Japanese American incarceration so that no one is ever targeted again because of their national origin or faith.”

It was 75 years ago that President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which led to concentration camps for Japanese Americans.

Karen Korematsu, the executive director and founder of the Fred T. Korematsu Institute, spoke about the lessons learned from her late father, whose challenge to the constitutionality of the incarceration was rejected by the Supreme Court in 1944.

“Here we are 75 years later and lessons still have not been learned. My father was found to have violated Executive Order 9066 by the U.S. Supreme Court. And now his case is being used in a plaintiff’s case against the Muslim ban as a warning against these kinds of racist laws. It is also more important than ever to put money into education. We cannot repeat history and we cannot keep making the same mistakes. ”

She quoted the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who said during a Q&A with law students and faculty at the University of Hawaii in 2014: “Well, of course Korematsu was wrong. And I think we have repudiated in a later case. But you are kidding yourself if you think the same thing will not happen again.”

Basim Elkarra of the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) spoke about how Trump’s Muslim ban makes it plainly clear that history could repeat itself:

“President Trump has proposed an immigration ban on people from six Muslim-majority countries. I am, in fact, a plaintiff in a case against this ban. My community is being targeted unjustly today just like the Japanese Americans were in the 1940s. Understanding what the Japanese Americans went through and how they got through it not only educates our young people, but also helps our community understand that you can beat this and that you can survive the fear and the hate.”

Comparing Executive Order 9066 with Trump’s Executive Order 13769, signed in January, Elkarra said, “The two orders are separated by a period of 75 years, but both were born out of the same culture of fear and prejudice, a culture that tells us it’s acceptable to take away the rights of a minority.”

Chris Sanchez of the Coalition of Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA) spoke about how high numbers of deportations of Latinos are causing great fear, just like what Japanese Americans experienced:

“Under the Trump Administration, the reality is that all undocumented immigrants are considered a priority for deportation. We have seen this recently with a DACA recipient had been deported even though Trump had stated Dreamers were not a priority, nor was he going to go after them. Our families live in fear now. The same kind of fear that the Japanese Americans lived with during World War II when their families were being uprooted and taken to internment camps right here in our great state of California.”

Marielle Tsukamoto, a retired Elk Grove teacher and principal and a leader in the Sacramento-area Japanese American community, recounted her experiences in 1942: “I was five years old when my family was sent from our small farm south of Florin to what they called an internment camp [Jerome in Arkansas]. We were given false information. We didn’t know what an internment camp was. And when we arrived and the gates closed, and the soldiers stood there with their guns with long knives called bayonets on top, we understood that we had become prisoners of our own country.”

Muratsuchi was also joined by former Rep. Mike Honda (D-San Jose), who was detained as an infant with his family in the Amache camp in Colorado, and Assemblymember David Chiu (D-San Francisco), a member of the API Legislative Caucus.

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