Prior to the emotional terror imposed on thousands of “Dreamers” by Donald Trump’s rescinding of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) earlier this week (his Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, stated the use of DACA “has put our country at risk of crime, violence and terrorism”). This paints a grim picture of people who in fact would not be eligible for the program if they had a criminal record. Before the current president tweeted about the “tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.” Even before, the business of policy ensuring Equal Pay for women in the work force was considered pesky and ineffective. Before a conservative think tank concluded that 25 percent of Muslims thought violence against Americans by jihad was acceptable. Before the sloughing off of white nationalist attacks in Charlottesville. Before an imbecilic voice shouted into a metaphoric loudspeaker on Twitter and press conferences, spewing all of the above scapegoating rhetoric against those in the margins. Before the state of our current political climate, there was a slow prolonged simmer just beneath the surface of our political system that was waiting to have the heat turned up to boil.
As an undergraduate student immersed in law and policy, my task has been to pick apart the esoteric language that makes up the backbone of our constitutional frailties.
I have spent endless evenings pouring over Supreme Court cases that, unless one had the privilege of legal scholars helping to unpack the deeper meaning in these passages, one would have no idea that the pocket constitution they had memorized does not remotely imply the legal framework of present day.
Within these texts, one can trace the low simmer of oppression and marginalization. In the thousands of white pages I have read trying parse out a better understanding of our rights, there is one case I find swimming in my head on a daily basis as of late. That case is the yet to be overturned Korematsu v. United States, which was decided by the high court in 1944.
Basically, the case involved an American Citizen of Japanese descent who refused to abide the executive order signed by President Franklin Roosevelt during WWII. The order surmised “the successful prosecution of the war requires every possible protection against espionage and sabotage to national defense.” In short, this meant that the military was given license to forcibly remove people of Japanese heritage from their homes, (some of which were lost eternally). People of Japanese ancestry were shipped off to prison camps. After incarceration, Korematsu appealed all the way to the Supreme Court. It was there that the justices decided that the safety of the country outweighed the civil rights of a group of people.
Later, it was found that of the thousands of people of Japanese ancestry that were interned (most of whom were American-born citizens), none of them had committed espionage or sabotage.
This case is mentioned here not to reinforce the fear campaigns of the headline news or the ones that dominated the presidential races last fall. Instead, I intend to suggest that the post-racial, all-inclusive bubble that we all lived in prior to 2017 has always had holes in it. An infantile jester looking to maintain supremacy by any means necessary could be just the person to unearth law that the legal system has tried to keep shrouded for over five decades. When fighting for equity is radical, history says any of us could be a threat to the nation. This is not an issue of the undocumented, the women, the Muslims, the non-gender-conforming, the issue of those poor people we feel sympathy for, your issue, or my issue alone.
This is our issue. Now is not the time for siloed thinking or comparing the scars of systemic oppression, limiting what we can conjure together. I write this not to give orders on what we all should do. This is reminder to myself to know my neighbors, step up for them when they cannot, embrace them when they ask and no matter how arduous the journey to the table, demand a seat so I can speak for those like me who have never been invited before.