Former WWII internee’s daughter wonders: Could U.S. hold people again?

A collage provided by Holly Yasui shows her father, Min, at right, other internees, a government order affecting Japanese Americans during World War II and a guard tower at the Minidoka resettlement camp.
A collage provided by Holly Yasui shows her father, Min, at right, other internees, a government order affecting Japanese Americans during World War II and a guard tower at the Minidoka resettlement camp.

The daughter of an Oregon man who defied a World War II curfew order against Japanese Americans says she fears the same thing could happen again.

Holly Yasui is the daughter of Minoru Yasui, who was jailed in Portland before being sent to the Minidoka internment camp in Idaho. At a weekend program in Ontario, she said she’s troubled by broadsides against Muslims from presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and others.

Trump has said he is against internment camps but supports blocking Muslims from entering the United States.

“It’s frightening to hear this rhetoric,” Holly Yasui said. “Sometimes it appears this country is going to hell in a handbasket, but I do have faith in people. And I hear people here on the left and on the right saying that it’s important to respect the Constitution and the rights of all people.”

Anti-immigrant sentiment has hit a fever pitch in recent months.

Trump has blasted Muslims and called Latino immigrants “criminals” and “rapists.”

Many others have spoken out negatively after an American of Afghan descent killed 49 people and wounded 53 two weeks ago at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla.

And anti-refugee websites last weekend spread false claims that Syrians gang-raped a child at knifepoint at a Twin Falls apartment complex earlier this month. Three boys, 7, 10 and 14, were involved in some sort of assault on a 5-year-old girl, officials said, but the details didn’t match the wild claims made online. The boys, who are being held at a juvenile detention facility, are from Sudan and Iraq; only one of the younger boys is alleged to have touched the victim, and no knife was involved.

Resentment against Muslims grew following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Holly Yasui said. Muslims in the United States had nothing to do with those attacks, just like Japanese Americans had nothing to do with the Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, she said.

In the decades following World War II, most people came to the realization that imprisoning the Japanese Americans was wrong, said longtime Malheur County Circuit Judge Frank Yraguen, whose family is Basque.

“Could it nevertheless happen again? I surmise that it could happen again,” Yraguen said during the program at the Four Rivers Cultural Center.

A 2012 anti-terrorism law gives the military authority to arrest civilians anywhere in the world and detain them without trial as accused supporters of terrorism, Yraguen said. It’s troubling, he said, to think that even U.S. citizens could be held without due process.

“Could a situation like what happened in World War II happen again? There’s no question in my mind,” Oregon Senate Republic Leader Ted Ferrioli said.

Ferrioli, a John Day resident who represents southeastern Oregon, carried the bill creating Min Yasui Day on the floor of the Senate. He said he was moved by Yasui’s lifelong commitment to help minorities and his fight against the injustices against him.

More than 120,000 people of Japanese descent — two-thirds of them United States citizens — were rounded up along the West Coast and imprisoned in internment camps during World War II. No one of Japanese descent was ever accused of assisting the enemy.

Min Yasui grew up in Hood River, where his father and uncle operated a store. His father, Masuo, later held ownership in five ranches. Min graduated from the University of Oregon Law School and became the first Japanese American attorney in Oregon.

On March 28, 1942, Yasui deliberately violated a military curfew for people of Japanese ancestry, ordering a Portland police officer to arrest him in a test of the regulation. His subsequent conviction stood until it was overturned in 1986 by a federal court in Oregon, the same year he died.

Earlier this year, the Oregon Legislature declared March 28 as an annual Min Yasui Day. It followed the posthumous awarding of the Presidential Medal of Freedom last November by President Barack Obama.

Saturday’s program in Ontario — “Vision and Vigilance: Minoru Yasui, An Oregon Civil Rights Hero” — included readings from Holly Yasui’s play, “Citizen Min;” a photo display; a roundtable discussion and screening of a partially finished film on Min Yasui.

The program, which attracted about 100 people Saturday, will go to Portland and Hood River in October.

Ontario resident Bob Komoto, whose father, Joe, was one of the founders of Ontario Produce, said he admired Yasui for waging a one-man fight for his constitutional rights. He showed great courage, Komoto said, even with the lack of support from others.

“In the next crisis, who will I be? Everyone hopes they will be Min,” Komoto said.

John Sowell: 208-377-6423, @IDS_Sowell