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Korematsu-Takai Civil Liberties Act

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This proposed bill is indeed a no brainer, but unfortunately the Republican Party prioritizes people with no brains, so we will see.

So, on a day set aside to remember the plight of Japanese Americans during WWII, how do we meaningfully acknowledge what happened and ensure that something like this does not happen again? The answer may lie in a bill that has failed to pass since 2017.

The Korematsu-Takai Civil Liberties Protection Act, would establish clear legal prohibition against incarcerating Americans based not only on race, religion, and nationality but also sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity or disability. The bill seems like a slam dunk – a way to speak truth to power when we say, “Never again.”

The bill is named after Fred Korematsu, a civil rights icon who challenged the constitutionality of the mass incarceration all the way to the Supreme Court, and Rep. Mark Takai of Hawaii. Both men have died since the measure was first introduced.

It takes the lessons of this historic event and extends it to protect additional marginalized groups. Isn’t that what it means to prevent history from repeating itself? To repair our country’s wounds, we must go beyond remembrance and take meaningful action with the lessons of the past.

“It’s a more forward-looking commitment,” Eric Muller, a law professor at the University of North Carolina, told me when we discussed the legislation recently. “It’s an opportunity to take this tragic historical example and have it be something more than just a tragic historical example. We could have it be something that actually leads to a more just world for current and future generations.”

“I’m not bitter,” Saguchi, 83, told me recently during an interview. “This happened, but my concern is that it never happens to another group.”

She has good reason to worry: In the days after the September 11, 2001 attacks, US government officials rounded up South Asian and Arab men for questionable detention. In this news, Saguchi heard echoes of her past, so she started talking about her family history to anyone who would listen. “It’s unjust, and it’s just wrong,” said Saguchi. “You can’t treat your fellow humans that way.”

For this reason, the Korematsu-Takai bill should be a no-brainer, because it is based on a historic event that many agree was unjust. After the passage of the Civil Liberties Act in 1988, the US government officially apologized and paid reparations for its wartime actions against Japanese Americans.

The need for our leaders to prevent future mass detentions based on race and other marginalized identities is one of the imperative lessons of our past. The bill’s passage seems far more meaningful than symbolic gestures or commemorative events. Instead of just saying we should learn from our history, we can turn words into action. But we must ask ourselves first if we are ready to look forward.

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