WASHINGTON - The Japanese-Americans forcibly incarcerated by the U.S. government during World War II warn that the administration of President Donald Trump risks repeating this sad chapter in U.S. racial discrimination.
On Friday, the United States marked the 30th year since the Civil Liberties Act was enacted to officially apologize for the internment of Japanese-Americans.
Labeled as enemies, Japanese-Americans lost jobs and property simply because they were of Japanese ancestry. Their wish for preventing such discrimination from happening again rings hollow in U.S. society, where racial segregation is accelerating.
In Seabrook, a New Jersey town with a population of some 46,000, many of the Japanese descendants are still alive, says Stanley Kaneshiki, 82, a third-generation Japanese-American.
At the end of the war, a vegetable-processing plant in the town lost workers due to the draft and actively recruited those who were former internees.
Some 2,300 Japanese-Americans moved to Seabrook, seeking new lives. The town also attracted many migrants from Europe and Latin America. They worked 12 hours a day and received hourly wages of 35 to 50 cents.
Kaneshiki says that with shared bathrooms, the living environment was “not much different from the concentration camps.”
“But we were no longer surrounded by barbed wire, and we could go anywhere we wanted to. That freedom is something irreplaceable,” he notes.
In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed the law and apologized for having sent some 120,000 Japanese-Americans living on the West Coast to such camps in rural areas without holding trials, admitting the practice had been a serious error.
The government paid $20,000 in compensation to each living former internee.
The memory of the event is gradually fading in U.S. society, however.
Trump has banned the entry of people from some Islamic countries and has described African and Latin American nations as “shithole” countries in his quest to toughen regulations on immigration.
Such an atmosphere is expanding into society, helping increase the number of hate crimes.
Irene Kaneshiki, 78, also a third-generation Japanese-American, said: “(Trump’s Muslim ban) is pretty much the same as what the past administration did to Japanese-Americans. This is a country which is made of immigrants. Seabrook is a very good example of that.”