Thursday, March 9, 2017

It may be legal, but is it right?

Our laws are not created equally. Some laws on the books are deeply rooted in our moral and ethical principles. Others exist for the protection of the public, while others still, exist for merely practical purposes. Some laws embody all three principals while others, only one or two.

Sometimes, one of those principles, contradicts another. This past February 19th, we marked the 75th anniversary of the signing of Executive Order 9066, where two months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave the Secretary of War, the authority to establish...
...military areas in such places and of such extent as he or the appropriate Military Commander may determine, from which any or all persons may be excluded, and with respect to which, the right of any person to enter, remain in, or leave shall be subject to whatever restrictions the Secretary of War or the appropriate Military Commander may impose in his discretion.
The result of this order was the rounding up, forced relocation, and incarceration of tens of thousands of Americans, the majority of them US citizens, who traced their ancestry to the nations who were at war with US the time, namely, Germany, Italy, and Japan. While many German and Italian Americans were rounded up and incarcerated for the duration of the war, the vast majority of Americans who were affected by this order, were of Japanese ancestry.

Despite the fact that there was little or no question of their loyalty to the United States, for the stated purpose of national security, the entire west coast was declared off limits to Japanese Americans, which happened to be where most of them lived at the time. Persons with as little as 1/16th Japanese ancestry were rounded up, had their property confiscated, and were forced to move to inland government relocation (concentration) camps located in remote portions of Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado Utah, Arizona,  and Arkansas. There, roughly 110,000 Americans of Japanese descent would remain under lock and key until Roosevelt suspended his executive order late in 1944.

Japanese American Grocery, Oakland, California, 1942.
Photograph by Dorothea Lange.
That same year, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Executive Order 9066. In their ruling in the case known as Korematsu v. United States, the Court declared that as we were at war at the time, the president, whose power being conferred by Congress, indeed had the authority to "demand that all citizens of Japanese ancestry be segregated from the West Coast temporarily." As it was not integral to the specific case presented, the court punted on the issue of the legality of the incarceration of 100,000 plus Japanese Americans without due process, on top of their relocation.

The internment of Japanese Americans during World War II is truly a dark moment in US civil rights history. That fact was acknowledged years later as subsequent presidents rescinded the order (Gerald Ford), created committees to investigate the matter (Jimmy Carter), signed a piece of legislation, known as the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 which authorized reparations payments to surviving internees, (Ronald Reagan), and actually presented payments and a formal apology (George H.W. Bush) to the survivors.

The shameful treatment of Americans of Japanese heritage, while it may at the time have been viewed as a necessary evil for the security of the homeland for two and one half years, turned out to have been a failure on all counts. From a practical and strategic standpoint, the displacement and imprisonment of over one hundred thousand people took up a massive amount of resources that could have been effectively used in the war effort. There is little or no evidence that Japanese Americans were any less patriotic than any of their fellow countrymen, or posed any threat to national security, which made the action utterly pointless.

Of course, both those arguments pail in comparison to the collapse of American moral and ethical principles that resulted in the imprisonment of Japanese Americans during World War II.

I bring this up not to imply that the current administration's dealings with immigrants compares in its magnitude of transgressions to this tragic moment in American history, but only to illustrate that the laws our government makes, do not always reflect our moral values.

With that in mind, I question why opponents to the current president's first and second travel bans are arguing against them strictly on legal grounds. I understand that the fate of act two of his travel ban is ultimately in the hands of the courts, who themselves can only rule based upon the constitution and legal precedent. From my very limited understanding of the law, the president can legally impose restrictions upon certain groups of people for a limited period of time. In regards to the ban, Donald Trump did himself no favors during the campaign when he proposed a ban on Muslims entering the United States which in itself, is patently illegal. Those words have worked against him as his proposed ban of travelers from originally seven, now six predominantly Muslim nations, inevitably comes down the question of whether the ban is in fact a ban on people of a particular religious creed. The president insists the ban is not a religious ban, but he is constantly betrayed by his own words from the recent past.

I have no idea how the courts will rule on the new "and improved" ban, they could very well allow it on legal grounds, as would be their prerogative should they find no constitutional reason to rule against it.

But there are much deeper questions involved than legal ones. As I see it, there are no moral imperatives for immigration laws, they exist solely for practical reasons and to a lesser extent, public safely. Therefore the implementation and enforcement of such laws should be based upon honestly questioning their efficacy in achieving the goals set for them, a serious assessment regarding their costs vs. benefits, and most importantly, a heartfelt consideration of the moral implications of the actions. No law should be enforced simply for its own sake, and no action should be taken, just because it can be.

So to answer the issues I just presented one by one, no, I don't believe the travel ban currently on the books will make us safer. I firmly believe it will almost certainly alienate an ever growing number of the world's Muslims whose assistance we need to help us in the efforts to defeat groups like ISIS and al Qaeda, and who. regardless of statements to the contrary, will see the motivation of the order of the president to be a ban on Muslims. I can't imagine a greater recruitment tool for terrorist groups than Donald Trump. Singlehandedly he is doing all their hard work for them.

Secondly, I see the extremely broad scope of this ban to be the equivalent of performing an appendectomy with a chain saw. True, you may remove the offending organ, but you will also do tremendous damage to the rest of the body. Affected by this ban will be countless individuals who perform vital services to this country, such as doctors who serve in rural areas where native born MDs refuse to serve, as well as teachers, researchers, scientists and other essential professionals, not to mention tourists from all nations who are realizing that the United States is not the welcoming place it once was, and have already altered their travel plans.

Most important of all is the moral issue of refusing entry of refugees who are only hoping for a chance to live their lives in peace. These people have already gone through a rigorous vetting process in order to enter this country. I have no problem if the vetting process needs to be a little more rigorous as long as we can protect the safety of these people. But we do not want to repeat another shameful episode from World War II, the refusal of Jewish refugees from Germany who were ultimately sent back home to their deaths in the concentration camps of the Third Reich.

As I mentioned in my last post, the administrations before this one were very conscious and pro-active regarding the varied issues regarding immigration. While unfortunate and even tragic occurrences have taken place in this country at the hands of people not from this country, with the exception of the events of September 11, 2001, none of them come close to what could be considered a national emergency, or a crisis that requires a drastic response. Despite what the president wants us to believe, home grown terrorism, criminal behavior, and general hooliganism are more prevalent issues today in the United States than "bad hombres" coming from abroad.

If we have learned anything from the 9/11 terrorists, it is that people intent on doing harm to the Unites States of America are smart, and very resourceful. Strongly motivated and resourceful adversaries will not be stopped by closing our borders to immigrants, they always will find ways to get in. To stop them we need help from our allies, especially those in the Muslim world who themselves are the greatest victims of the Islamic terrorists. The current president's decrees are nothing more than misguided attempts at a show of strength, directed at his base as proof that he is fulfilling campaign promises. Trump's saber rattling antics will do nothing to make us safer. On the contrary, the ill will generated from them will only intensify anti-American sentiments around the world and will serve as a launching pad for the recruitment efforts of terrorist groups.

Military leaders have made this perfectly clear but our president, who during the campaign, claimed "he knew more about stopping ISIS than the generals", apparently is not listening.  Teddy Roosevelt famously used the phrase "speak softly and carry a big stick", to describe his philosophy of foreign policy. It would appear that Donald Trump's philosophy is this: Bloviate as loud as possible and carry a limp biscuit. He is like a chess player who thinks you win the game by knocking over all the pieces.

I strongly believe that this president's draconian efforts to curtail illegal immigration, deport undocumented residents of long standing, prohibit travel into this country for people from specific countries, and severely limit the inflow of refugees from war torn nations, will do nothing to protect the safety of Americans. Rather, they are counterproductive, and have the very real potential of causing grave damage to this country. I believe that the costs, both in currency and far more important, in human lives, health, prosperity, not to mention our moral credibility, far outweigh the miniscule benefits.

His efforts may in the end may be ruled legal, but no way in hell are they right. 

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