Imagine if in 1958, the U.S. government had drafted a report urging that certain Japanese Americans should be placed under long-term surveillance, given the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor and the possibility for radicalization among that immigrant community leading to further attacks on America.
The parallel isn’t precise. But in 2018, we are practically the same distance in time from 9/11 as 1958 was from 1941. And as ludicrous as the suspicion of Japanese and Japanese Americans so long after the war seems to us, it’s not such a stretch from a draft report by the Department of Homeland Security leaked last week to Foreign Policy. It reflects the xenophobia against Muslims and Muslim Americans that President Trump brought to the White House.
“The surveillance policies — should they go into effect — would bolster the Trump administration’s goal of limiting immigration from Muslim-majority countries,” The Washington Post reported. Simply put, such policies amount to profiling based solely on religious and ethnic stereotyping, and are very troubling.
DHS has said the report was merely a first draft. Nevertheless it should raise concerns, because it comes against a backdrop that is already moving in a disturbing direction. The Trump administration has long seemed to want to choke off Muslim immigration with refugee bans and promises of “extreme vetting.” Given that expressed intention, long-term surveillance of U.S. citizens and others legally permitted to reside here doesn’t sound like such a stretch.
The administration’s paranoia of Muslims and the possible risks a few might pose stands in stark contrast to the fact that the chief threat of domestic terror today comes from white supremacists. Last month, the ADL reported that in the decade from 2007 to 2017, of the 387 deaths caused by extremist violence, 71 percent came in attacks carried out by rightwing extremists.
The government’s assessment of the threat caused by immigrants is seemingly bolstered by a report issued last month by the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security. It stated that three-quarters of those convicted of terrorism-related charges between 2001 and 2016 were foreign-born. Yet a 2016 Cato Institute report found that between 2001 and 2015, “more than three times as many people were killed in terrorist attacks by native-born Americans.”
As best we can tell, the disconnect between the government statistics and the ADL and Cato numbers seems to confuse apples and oranges. The government reports look at the number of perpetrators. The ADL and Cato reports look at the number of victims. Certainly both need to be kept in mind for common-sense law enforcement that protects the peace of everyday Americans. Neither report justifies extreme measures.
As the real life Japanese-American saga of internment camps should have taught us, policies that are motivated by xenophobia and aim to harass the innocent are just not right, and have no place in the land of the free and the home of the brave.