NEW YORK — A Japanese American born in an American concentration camp during World War II is pushing back against U.S. President Donald Trump’s travel restrictions that target people from certain Muslim-majority nations.
“It’s easy to issue a presidential order, but it would take many, many years to repeal it,” said Takeshi Furumoto, speaking at a recent event in New York marking 30 years since the U.S. government apologized to Japanese Americans forcibly relocated during World War II.
The 73-year-old realtor and Vietnam War veteran compares Trump’s travel ban, issued by executive order soon after his 2017 inauguration, to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s executive order in 1942 that led to the incarceration of some 120,000 U.S. civilians of Japanese descent in more than 10 remote camps across the country.
Clad in his U.S. Army uniform, Furumoto was a featured speaker at the April gathering organized by a coalition of organizations, including the Center for Constitutional Rights, to reflect on the history and legacy of the wartime imprisonment.
Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 about two months after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. It authorized the war department to designate “military areas” from which “any or all persons” could be excluded in the name of national security — a broad mandate used specifically to detain Japanese Americans until the order was suspended in December 1944.
A formal apology and reparations payment to survivors of the incarceration came decades later through the Civil Liberties Act, signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1988.
Furumoto was born in October 1944, at the tail end of the incarceration, to second-generation Japanese American parents at the Tule Lake Segregation Center.
The harsh living conditions at the Northern California camp were compounded by political turmoil as it became a segregation center, holding incarcerees who refused to sign a divisive pledge of allegiance to the United States over the Japanese emperor.
As an infant, Furumoto was brought to live in his grandfather’s hometown of Hiroshima less than six months after the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city.
When he returned to California approximately 10 years later, Furumoto was subjected to anti-Japanese sentiment from classmates and the community at large, but persevered through his studies to gain admission to the University of California, Los Angeles. In 1968, he joined the U.S. Army and was sent into combat in Vietnam.
Furumoto later established a real estate firm and by the mid-1980s was on a first-name basis with Donald Trump after projects including the sale of condominiums owned by the New York businessman.
But Furumoto has gradually distanced himself from Trump due to the latter’s anti-immigration rhetoric and policies, including the travel ban disproportionately targeting Muslims.
Just a week after taking office in January 2017, Trump signed an executive order immediately halting entry into the United States for citizens of seven countries — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
The ban, purportedly issued for the sake of national security, has undergone a number of tweaks in the face of court challenges, with the original order superseded by updated versions. Its current incarnation, which no longer includes Iraq or Sudan but adds North Korea and Venezuela, is in effect pending further review by the Supreme Court.
“(President Trump) is about to divide the country, by committing the same acts on Muslims and immigrants as those done on Japanese,” Furumoto said. “We should not repeat the history of discrimination.”
The former incarceree expressed faith that despite its rights violations in the past, the United States remains a country whose ideals are worth defending.
“All of us, immigrants and their children, make up this country,” Furumoto added. “It is our responsibility to fight (against discrimination) in efforts to live out our dreams.”