SACRAMENTO — Fueled by outrage over the scapegoating of innocent Syrian refugees and those justifying it with the World War II concentration camps for Japanese Americans, the Sacramento-area community quickly mobilized a news conference on Nov. 19 of Japanese, Muslim, Christian, and Buddhist Americans.
Over 30 people, including a dozen former World War II detainees, quickly gathered at Buddhist Church of Florin, a site where the wartime camps were first announced.
On Nov. 18, Roanoke, Va. Mayor David Bowers, a Democrat, proposed that Syrian refugees be excluded like imprisoned Japanese Americans were in World War II.
Tennessee State House GOP Caucus Chair Glen Casada proposed rounding up all the Syrian refugees and sending them back to a federal immigration center.
Rhode Island State Sen. Elaine Morgan (R) said, “We should set up refugee camps to keep them segregated from our populace.”
The press conference was organized by the Florin JACL and Council on American Islamic Relations-Sacramento Valley (CAIR-SV). Representatives from Parkview Presbyterian Church (Rev. Aart van Beek), Buddhist Church of Florin (Rev. Yuki Sugahara), and Sacramento JACL (Janice Luszczak) spoke out.
Rev. Saburo Masada (retired) of Calvary Presbyterian Church in Stockton drove from Fresno, 180 miles away, to add his voice to the protest.
Also speaking were Basim El-Karra , executive director of CAIR-SV, and Andy Noguchi and Marielle Tsukamoto, co-presidents of the Florin JACL.
Tsukamoto, who lived on farm in Florin before the war, was interned along with her parents, Mary and Al, at the Fresno Assembly Center and the Jerome War Relocation Center in Arkansas.
“There was race prejudice, war hysteria, and failure of political leadership,” she told CBS 13. “And if you listen to what some of the elected officials are saying now, we seem to be going back to the pattern.”
“We protest the fear-mongering proposals that Syrian refugees fleeing terrorism and properly screened be excluded from this country or even locked up in concentration camps, as World War II Japanese Americans were once unjustly imprisoned,” Noguchi said. “Our America is better than that. We’ve learned from the past mistakes …
“As those unjustly imprisoned before and their family members, we say NO. NO to this scapegoating of innocent people. NO to racism, NO to war hysteria, NO to failed political leadership. Tragically, the Japanese American community has been there before.
“Today we stand before the Florin community hall where 2,500 Japanese Americans first received the 1942 news about their imprisonment. Today, we have a dozen people seated here who were detained. They bear witness to today’s threat against America.
“In 1942, the U.S. blamed Japanese Americans for Japan’s attack and locked up 120,000 innocent people – forcing the loss of their freedom, homes, businesses, farms, possession, and education.
“In 1988, President Ronald Reagan apologized to the camp survivors plus authorized reparations for some of the losses.
“We are joined today by Japanese American community organizations, as well as good friends from the Muslim and Sikh community who have been repeatedly victimized by this backlash since 9/11.”
El-Karra shared crucial information for understanding the refugee issue. Of the 800,000 refugees admitted to the U.S. since 9/11, not a single person has been found guilty of terrorism, he said, and the U.S. thoroughly investigates refugees from war zones in a two-year process before admitting them.
Noting that several governors have announced that Syrian refugees are not welcome in their states, El-Karra said, “Words have consequences, and these governors don’t realize that since their campaign to attack the refugees, there’s been many hate crimes against the Muslim community.”
Tsukamoto was among a dozen Japanese American elders imprisoned or otherwise excluded from the West Coast during World War II who attended the press conference: Stan and Christine Umeda, Utako Kimura, Toshiko Akiyama, Judie Miyao, Myrna Hitomi, Fumie Shimada, Rev. Saburo and Marion Masada, Marilyn Isenberg, and Professor Isao Fujimoto. They didn’t want other innocent people to suffer the same fate.
Also participating were the Asian Bar Association of Sacramento; API Rise; APIQSC (Asian Pacific Islander Queer Sacramento Coalition); former Assemblymember Mariko Yamada (D-Davis), a candidate for State Senate; George Waegell, a World War II-era supporter of local Japanese Americans; David Unruhe and Michelle Huey of JACL’s Northern California-Western Nevada-Pacific District; and many other friends.