US honors WW II Japanese internment camp critic: Could history repeat itself?

The family of Minoru Yasui, who will get a Presidential Medal of Freedom for challenging the Japanese internment camps in World War II, says he would be angry at US politicians refusing to accept Syrian refugees.

Orlin Wagner/AP
Chani Hawkins, granddaughter of Minoru Yasui, uses hand gestures around photos of her grandfather during an interview at her home in Kansas City, Mo., Friday. Minoru Yasui will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom this week posthumously.

Reminiscent of the unjust treatment of Japanese Americans during World War II, the recent wave of political opposition to accepting Syrian refugees is not sitting well with the relatives of those had lived through internment camps.

Minoru Yasui was a civil rights attorney who will be honored posthumously this week with a Presidential Medal of Freedom for challenging how Japanese Americans were treated after Pearl Harbor.

His daughter, Laurie Yasui, said he would be upset over how politicians are reacting to the series of terrorist attacks in Paris. He would be "up on his soap box, stomping his feet and shaking his fist,” she told the Associated Press.

Since the Nov. 13 attacks, more than half of US governors and many other lawmakers have said they oppose letting Syrian refugees in their state, citing concerns that possible terrorists will be among them. On Wednesday, David Bowers, the mayor of Roanoke, Va., went as far as suggesting Syrian refugees be put in camps similar to the Japanese internment camps in the 1940s.

Mayor Bowers has since apologized.

After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, Yasui tried to join the US military and fight for the United States but was rejected. When he violated the military curfew placed on Japanese-Americans in outrage, he was arrested and detained for nine months in solitary confinement.

Following the end of the war, he demanded the country to pay reparations to those who went through the internment camps as well as to their families, and he succeeded.

"The thing of it was, he loved this country," his daughter told AP. "He thought that this country was the greatest country on Earth and made a point to say that this is the only country where you could stand up and object to the government and the president and be allowed to make that objection without being killed or destroyed."

While excited to see him honored with the medal, Yasui’s family is wary of history being repeated with how the nation has responded to Syrian refugees.

"We are at this kind of crossroad where fear and hysteria is playing into the decisions that are being made," his granddaughter Chani Hawkins said.

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

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