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Major Trump Backer Cites Internment Camps to Defend 'Muslim Registry'

Under Trump, "one of the most shameful episodes in our country's history... [is now] an inspiration for policymaking," said Baher Azmy of the Center for Constitutional Rights

An exhibit displays World War II-era photographs depicting the internment of Japanese-Americans by the U.S. (Photo: Kelly Michals/flickr/cc)

A supporter of President-elect Donald Trump on Wednesday cited the United States' use of internment camps for Japanese-Americans during World War II as a "precedent" for Trump's rumored "Muslim registry."

Carl Higbie, a spokesperson for the pro-Trump Great America PAC, defended the proposed registry to Fox News's Megyn Kelly, who had quoted a counter-argument that the American government does not catalog people based on religion.

"Yeah, well, we have in the past. We've done it based on race, we've done it based on religion, we've done it based on region," Higbie said, later adding, "We did it during World War II with Japanese."

Watch the exchange below:

The transcript reads:

KELLY: So, you think it's a good idea, and you don't care that this is some sort of a slippery slope where Muslims may just get lumped into some group, where they get put in a registry, and some you know, some aggressive law enforcement actor in the future might abuse that list?

HIGBIE: Absolutely, look, there is always a case for abuse in this thing. But the fundamental problem here is we have a large faction, look—Look, being a part of the Muslim faith is not a bad thing, and there is plenty —there is, you know, 1.6 billion Muslims out there.


HIGBIE: Yeah, and to be perfectly honest, it is legal. They say it will hold constitutional muster. I know the ACLU is gonna challenge it, but I think it'll pass, and we've done it with Iran back—back a while ago. We did it during World War II with Japanese, which, you know, call it what you will, maybe—

KELLY: Come on. You're not—you're not proposing we go back to the days of internment camps, I hope.


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HIGBIE: No, no, no. I'm not proposing that at all, Megyn, but what I am saying is we need to protect America from—

KELLY: You know better than to suggest that. I mean, that's the kind of stuff that gets people scared, Carl.

HIGBIE: Right, but it's—I'm just saying there is precedent for it, and I'm not saying I agree with it, but in this case I absolutely believe that a regional based—

KELLY: You can't be citing Japanese internment camps as precedent for anything the president-elect is gonna do.

HIGBIE: Look, the president needs to protect America first, and if that means having people that are not protected under our Constitution have some sort of registry so we can understand, until we can identify the true threat and where it's coming from, I support it.

Top Trump adviser and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach said last week that the incoming administration is drafting plans for a database that would require immigrants and visitors from countries where extremist groups are active to register with the government.

The plans may reportedly be modeled after a defunct program launched after 9/11 that required immigrants from "higher risk" countries to undergo interrogation and fingerprinting. That program, known as the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), was launched in 2002 and ultimately dismantled in 2011 after outcry from civil rights groups. President Barack Obama removed all the countries from the NSEERS list, effectively voiding the program, but it is still technically in operation.

"Until the rise of Trumpism, it had been universally recognized that Japanese internment was one of the most shameful episodes in our country's history, yet in this new era it is becoming an inspiration for policymaking," said Baher Azmy, legal director at the Center for Constitutional Rights, in response to Higbie's comments.

"Beyond an embrace of racism and xenophobia, this level of racial and religious scapegoating undermines our most basic constitutional values," Azmy said. "We must start to take him and those who will be empowered in his administration at their word: we must believe they are working to do what they said they would do."

Cecillia Wang, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrants' Rights Project, called on Trump to "immediately disavow" Higbie.

"The ACLU fought the internment of Japanese-Americans all the way to the Supreme Court, and in decades since, the internment has been discredited as a shameful chapter of our history, including by President Ronald Reagan, who called it 'a great injustice' and apologized on behalf of all Americans," Wang said. "If the Trump administration proceeds to discriminate against our Muslim neighbors, families, and friends, we will sue."

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