THE RED HUNTS AND THE WORLD WAR II INTERNMENTS
Immigrants make tempting scapegoats in times of crisis. Bomb blasts, labor strikes, crimes, war and social unrest have at many points in our history caused neighbors to look askance at the newcomers in their midst. Set apart by their accents, mannerisms or physical appearance, immigrants are usually easy to spot and to suspect, particularly if they live in immigrant communities.
EVACUATION: Japanese Americans at Manzanar Relocation Center, 1943. The ACLU pointed out the “injustice and hardship” of relocating people whose relatives were “loyally serving by the thousands in our armed forces,” but in the panic following Pearl Harbor, the administration was unmoved.
It may be that America, created by immigrants who displaced the indigenous population, is uniquely sensitive to the possibility of displacement. But as a backward glance at our recent history reminds us, the scapegoating of immigrants is nothing new.
Suspicion has greeted every wave
of immigrants since the late eighteenth century, from the Irish who fled their homeland during the potato famine to the Southern Europeans, Eastern Europeans and Chinese refugees who followed. Cries for the registration, detention and deportation of aliens have followed nearly every war in the last century. Mandatory finger-
printing, loyalty oaths and denials of due process have been put forward with numbing frequency as responses to the distrust that has periodically gripped the country.
Since its inception, the ACLU has worked — not always success- fully — to persuade lawmakers of the shortsightedness of anti- immigrant policies. The Palmer Raids, culminating in the deportation without trials of 249 Eastern Europeans, were a case in point. Though more than 6,000 were arrested without evidence, the roundups failed to accomplish their stated purpose. Not only did they fail to identify bombers or make America more secure; they sowed such deep suspicion of enemies in our midst that fanatics in Congress were still pursuing and blacklisting alleged communists 30 years later.
ACLU founder Roger Baldwin, opposing a variety of anti-alien measures sparked by fears of communists, wrote in 1935 about the dangers to all minority groups created by bills targeting even one: “Zionists, Catholics, trade-unionists, even businessmen with foreign headquarters visiting in the United States, could all be subjected to summary banishment.” Restoration of a secret service would “turn loose on the country a horde of sleuths, spying upon unions and