[Editor’s note: The following statement was issued by JACL Executive Director David Inoue and Public Affairs VP Sarah Baker and was lightly edited only to adhere to AP Style.]
This week, a companion bill to Rep. Ilhan Omar’s House Resolution 5734 was introduced to the Senate by Sen. Mazie Hirono. These bills, titled “The Neighbors Not Enemies Act,” seek to repeal the Alien Enemies Act (AEA) which was signed into law over 200 years ago in 1798. The AEA has been used to deport, incarcerate and withhold the rights of foreign nationals in the United States during times of war. The JACL supports the “Neighbors Not Enemies Act.”
The AEA was originally part of four bills introduced by Congress in 1798, known then as the Alien and Sedition Acts, which grew stronger in controversy after they were signed into law by President John Adams. The four acts were said to increase national security in the wake of the French Revolution and uncertain relations with Britain in the aftermath of the Revolutionary War. While the three other bills expired within several years under President Thomas Jefferson, the administration renewed the AEA, and it has since been renewed continuously.
In 1918, on the outbreak of World War I, the AEA was revised and used again as the United States declared war on Germany. During the war, the act was used to enact laws against German nationals in the United States to curtail possible acts of espionage and sabotage.
The largest use of the AEA was in World War II, however, when it was used as a legal basis to imprison and deport, German, Italian and Japanese immigrants in the United States. Executive Order 9066 followed on Feb. 19, 1942, expanding the scope to create exclusion zones from which those deemed a threat might be forcibly removed. Once the exclusion orders were issued, the scope had expanded to include “non-aliens,” a euphemism for U.S. citizens. As a result nearly 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry were incarcerated.
Most recently, the AEA has been used as a justification by the current administration for the creation of the “Muslim Ban.” The current administration has continued to put forward policies that actively promote attacks against Muslim immigrants and refugees as well as the separation of families at the border. With the AEA still in effect, it allows for the legality of these policies and laws to be put in place.
Such an outdated and xenophobic law has no place in our nation. Throughout history, the policies enabled by this law have wreaked devastation upon too many families that have suffered separation, trauma and economic loss. It is past time we repeal the Alien Enemies Act and we applaud Rep. Omar and Sen. Hirono for their leadership in addressing this failure in our laws.