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Mike Honda, D-CA 15th
Mr. HONDA. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentlewoman from Texas (Ms. Jackson-Lee) for her words and her support not only here in the halls of Congress but also back home in Houston and Texas in general. Her work and the work of the gentlewoman from California (Ms. Lee) really just show that there is power in collaboration and being able to work together not only as individuals but as a coalition for the betterment of every American in this country.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to touch a little bit on the internment story of the Japanese Americans in this country. It is a story that needs to be told over and over again because it is not a Japanese American history lesson. It is not a Japanese American experience only. It is not a Japanese American lesson, but it is really rooted deeply in what I would consider an American lesson.
Mr. Speaker, this year marks the 61st anniversary of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's signing of Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942; and it is the 15th anniversary of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988.
In 1942, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 pursuant to which 120,000 Japanese Americans and legal resident aliens were incarcerated in internment camps during World War II. Many of these families lost their property and possessions during the several years they were jailed behind barbed wire.
On February 19, 1976, President Gerald Ford formally rescinded Executive Order 9066; and July 21, 1980, became the beginning of reconciling our past to the present. Congress adopted legislation signed by President Jimmy Carter on July 31, 1980, establishing the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians to investigate the claim that the incarceration of Japanese Americans and legal resident aliens during World War II was not justified by military necessity. The outcome of that
commission, Mr. Speaker, the commission had held 20 days of hearings and listened to testimony of over 720 witnesses, and published its findings in a report entitled ``Personal Justice Denied.'' The principal finding in 1982 was that the promulgation of Executive Order 9066 was not justified
by military necessity and that the decision which followed from it, detention, ending detention and ending exclusion, were not driven by analysis of military conditions, but rather the causes that shaped these decisions were race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.
With a strong bipartisan vote, Congress passed H.R. 442, the Civil Liberties Act, which states in part: ``For these fundamental violations of the basic civil liberties and constitutional rights of these individuals of Japanese ancestry, the Congress apologizes on behalf of the Nation.'' President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act into law on August 10, 1988, at which time he proclaimed: ``This is a great day for America.''
In 1998, as a member of the California State Assembly, I authored the State version of the Civil Liberties Act, understanding that the work was still not done once the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 had expired.
I mention these dates and this timing, Mr. Speaker, because today it is even more important, more important than ever, to speak up against unjust policies. It is also more important than ever to educate Americans of the Japanese American experience during World War II, as well as the experience of other groups like Japanese Latin Americans who were expatriated from their country at the request of our government; and then while they were on the ships on their way to the United States to be interned
in Crystal City, Texas, they were stripped of all their papers and became people without a country. And certain German and Italian Americans in this country were also mistreated, many of whom were forced in the middle of the night to leave their homes and pledge allegiance to the Flag in the middle of the night in order to show that to their neighbors, who forced them out, to prove that they were loyal and patriotic Americans during that time.
It is also important to learn the important lessons from our own history in the resolution I introduced, H.R. 56, the Day of Remembrance resolution, which is still in the Committee on the Judiciary. Teaching the lessons of those dark days is more important today than it ever was.
By remembering, Executive Order 9066 that was signed on February 19, 1942, does not become an anniversary just on February 19 but is an anniversary that must be remembered and lived and understood every day of the year, every year for the future of this country, because the lessons that were learned were lessons that were principally rooted in the Constitution of this country, the Constitution which was a contract between our government and the people who are here in this country, a contract
that is signed on paper called the Declaration of Independence, a contract that is immutable and cannot be [Page: H4238]
changed and should not be changed, a contract that promises everyone who is in this country due process and the protection of their civil
liberties. It is a contract that has been protected. It is a contract that has been fought for and a contract which members of this country who served in the military have shed their blood overseas for, who left their limbs in the islands of the Pacific and on the European continent.
These Americans must be remembered as part of the lessons that we learned from the Japanese American experience that the Constitution is a contract worth protecting and dying for. We must remember that this Constitution was written back in 1776, but yet it is an evolving, growing Constitution that over time has included not only white men with properties but those who used to be slaves; those immigrants whose laws were passed against them which eventually were rescinded became citizens of this
country; those immigrants who came just recently after the Vietnam War, and even today people are still seeking to find refuge in this country even at times when we seem to appear to be inhospitable to the immigrants.
Mr. Speaker, the lessons learned during the internment when we thought that we were protecting Japanese Americans for their own safety was actually a myth because if it were true, then as my father used to tell me, he wondered why if we were here for our protection, why would the barbed wires be around us, the machines pointing in on us. And my father used to still tell me, though, that, as I grew up, to be 110 percent American; that we must also remember that the contributions that have been
invested in this country of our parents and grandparents are well worth it, that we must also learn that even though this country is faced with challenges since 9-11 that in spite of the war on terrorism that we still have to remember the constitutional principles by which we live.
When 9-11 occurred, the ugly head of racial prejudice appeared again as it did in 1942. Hysteria started to take over some hearts in this country, and as a result people like Balbir Singh Sodhi, an immigrant and a Sikh American from Fremont, California, moved to Mesa, Arizona to start a business there and because he looked like the enemy to the perpetrator, he was murdered and shot there in his store. And then coincidentally another year later, his brother Sukhpal Singh Sodhi was a taxi driver
in San Francisco who was shot and murdered in San Francisco merely because he appeared to be a Middle Easterner and those who murdered him thought that they were vindicated because they played upon and acted upon their prejudice and their hysteria and their hatred.
It did not become a wave of murders and hangings here in this country, for I believe that, because of the history that we have been able to share, that many of us checked our fears and checked our emotions and made sure that we did not respond or succumb to our base fears.
Mr. Speaker, I believe that Members of this Congress also participated in making sure that the people of our country remembered and learned from the history of the internment, that racial profiling is unacceptable, and although we are in the throes of fear and the issues of national security that we must exercise our common sense, our good sense, and exercise our understanding of the principles of the Constitution.
We know that after 9/11 and after certain acts were passed, such as the PATRIOT Act, that we must seek the critical balance between civil liberties and private liberties with national security; and the Constitution continues to be tested as we move along, looking towards a possible second PATRIOT Act.
Mr. Speaker, it is my prayer, my hope, that Members of this body remember that Asian Americans were pioneers establishing this country. The Asian Americans were laborers building this country. The Asian Americans are doctors, lawyers, teachers and politicians, providing for the health and welfare of this Nation; and we, like every other American, are red-blooded Americans.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to close with a couple of comments that became a lesson for me personally as I have been here my third year and my experience and seeing the works of the halls of Congress here in Washington, D.C.
I believe that the very basic lesson I have learned is not only from the experience that my community has had in 1942, the kinds of lessons we learned since then and the kinds of teachings that we have learned, but I also started to understand that the last century was a century of wars, a century of conflict, a century of trauma, and that the promise that we have in this new century should be the century of reconciliation and peace.
Now that the Cold War is gone, we have a challenge of facing conflicts in other ways. A wise man once said to me that peace, Mike, is not an absence of conflict, but a way, a manner, in which you can deal with conflict.
So, in closing, the primary lesson I have learned these past few years, Mr. Speaker, is that our Constitution is never tested in times of tranquility, but our Constitution is sorely tested in times of trauma, terror and tragedy, and that the very fiber of the American character and this country should be embodied and should be learned from the very words and the principles and the rights embodied in the Constitution and Bill of Rights.
Mr. Speaker, I thank you for the opportunity to utilize this time to share some of the information that we have had, share some of the information with the general public, and hopefully the records would reflect that Asian Americans in this country came with a dream, they worked hard and participated, they faced barriers and overcame them, and that can only happen over time in a country and a democracy like ours, where evolution and evolving sentiments and policies in this country only lead us
forward, that we learn from our mistakes, and that only makes us stronger and better Americans and a greater America.