There is a pattern here. Immigrants have been unjustifiably and illegally targeted by the U.S. government in response to national crises across the decades. Exploring the similarities between three events-the Palmer Raids, Japanese internment, and the current "war on terrorism"-reveals how responses to a national crisis can often precipitate massive suspensions of civil rights. Historians have consistently critiqued both the Palmer Raids and Japanese internment as unwarranted, anti-immigrant, racist, and illegal. But how closely is the "war on terrorism" following the patterns of the past?
On June 2, 1919, a series of bombs exploded across eight American cities. In response to the bombings, Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer ordered a massive roundup and detention of all suspected "alien reds." Thinking that members of anarchist, communist, and socialist groups were responsible for the bombings, Palmer authorized the massive roundup of Russian and Eastern European immigrants. Without being charged with any crime, thousands were detained, held in secret, denied bail, and denied access to lawyers. Although not one person was connected to the June 2 bombings, hundreds were eventually deported without trials.
On December 7, 1941, Japan launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. In response to the attack, President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which authorized the military to begin interning Japanese American citizens and immigrants. Without being charged with any crime, 120,000 Japanese Americans were removed from their homes and placed in makeshift internment camps for the duration of World War II. No Japanese American was ever convicted of espionage or aiding the Japanese government during World War II.
In response to the attack on September 11, 2001, the U.S. government quickly broadened the powers of the Department of Justice and began detaining and questioning thousands of immigrants from Arab or Muslim countries. Today, Attorney General John Ashcroft is calling for expanding powers of the PATRIOT Act in order to fight the "war on terrorism." Already Ashcroft’s discriminatory policies have unjustly impacted hundreds of thousands of immigrants and people of color.
View/Download the chart that appeared in ColorLines print edition as PDF. This chart draws parallels between the Palmer Raids, the internment of Japanese Americans, and today’s domestic "war on terror."