In 1939, a majority of Americans supported the U.S. government’s refusal to allow in Jewish refugees from Europe. Accordingly, America rejected the S.S. St. Louis, forcing 1000 Jewish refugees to return to Europe. There, 254 died in the Holocaust. In 1944 the U.S. Supreme Court upheld President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, which resulted in the detention of 120,000 Japanese-Americans.
Years later we said “Never Again” would we let fear rob us of our humanity. Yet, today in 2017 Americans are nearly evenly split on President Donald Trump’s ban on Syrian refugees, as talks of Muslim concentration camps in the United States have surfaced.
So, how did “Never Again” once more turn in to “Never Mind?”
It arguably began in 1953 when the U.S. government overthrew the democratically elected president of Iran and installed a fascist in his place. It advanced in the 1970s and 80s when our tax dollars funded the rise of Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, and We the People sat idle.
It accelerated after 9/11, when We the People permitted the government to enforce the National security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS)—a registry for Muslim male immigrants. Nearly 138,000 American residents were registered before the Obama administration finally stopped using the program. Of note, NSEERS did not result in a single captured terrorist.
In this country, non-citizens, especially those residing on U.S. territory, have certain inalienable rights, as Professor David Cole explained in 2003 in an academic article for the Georgetown University Law Center:
[T]he Supreme Court has squarely stated that neither the First Amendment nor the Fifth Amendment “acknowledges any distinction between citizens and resident aliens.” For more than a century, the Court has recognized that the Equal Protection Clause is “universal in [its] application, to all persons within the territorial jurisdiction, without regard to differences of … nationality.” The Court has repeatedly stated, “the Due Process Clause applies to all ‘persons’ within the United States, including aliens, whether their presence here is lawful, unlawful, temporary, or permanent”.
Despite this, We the People permitted the indefinite detention of mere suspected terrorists on U.S. territory at Guantanamo Bay—a 15-year stain that stretches to this day.
We the People allowed our government to populate Gitmo with prisoners from an unjust and pre-emptive war against Iraq. That war killed up to 1 million civilians to neutralize a threat that did not exist in the first place. We the People permitted our government to pass the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), in 2007 and renew it annually, which allows for “…the indefinite military detention of civilians, including U.S. citizens, without habeas corpus or due process…”
We the People permitted extrajudicial drone strikes. In 2016 alone, America dropped over 26,000 bombs on countries we are not at war with. None of those killed by our drones ever received due process under the law, as Prof. Cole explained, our Constitution requires. Leaked government documents indicate that up to 90% of those killed were civilians and were not the intended targets. In 2011, President Obama authorized the first drone strike against a U.S. citizen, Anwar Al-Awlaki. Two weeks later he authorized another drone strike that killed Al-Awlaki’s sixteen-year-old American citizen son. In 2017 President Trump authorized a drone strike that killed al-Awalaki’s eight-year-old daughter—also an American citizen.
We the People cannot suddenly blame government today for violating the Constitution when we have long permitted such actions in the past. Instead, we must re-engage and re-invest in our laws, and ensure we have a government by, of, and for the People. Rampant injustice is not a red or blue issue—it is a grave human rights concern germane to all Americans, and we must all take responsibility for preventing it.
In thirty years, our children will look back to this period in history. Will they read about the 2017 version of the S.S. St. Louis? Or, will they read about how America stood up for its Constitutional principles and humanitarian promises? How as Americans we took action to transform “Never Mind” to the much more needed “Never Again.”