Trump surrogate cites Japanese internment camps as precedent for Muslim registry

“We need to protect America first.”

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SOURCEThink Progress

During an appearance on Megyn Kelly’s Fox News show Wednesday night, Trump surrogate Carl Higbie cited one of the most xenophobic episodes in American history as “precedent” for the possibility the Trump administration will require Muslim immigrants from certain countries to register in a national database.

“They say it’ll hold Constitutional muster,” Higbie said, referring to the Muslim registry proposal discussed earlier this week by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, an adviser to President-elect Donald Trump. “I know the ACLU is going to challenge it, but I think it’ll pass. And we’ve done it with Iran back a while ago, we did during World War II with [the] Japanese, which, call it what you will, may be wrong.”

Higbie’s comment drew an instant rebuke from Kelly.

“C’mon, you’re not proposing we go back to the days of internment camps, I hope,” she said. “You know better than to suggest that. That’s the kind of stuff that gets people scared, Carl.”

Higbie, spokesman for the Trump-supporting PAC Great America, attempted to walk it back somewhat, telling Kelly that while he’s “not proposing at all” to have camps reopened, “we need to protect America first.”

“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 — ”

Kelly cut him off, insisting that “you can’t be citing Japanese internment camps as precedent of anything the President-elect is going to do.”

But Higbie wouldn’t concede entirely.

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

Kelly got the last word, telling Higbie that immigrants “get the protections once they come here.”

According to Reuters, Kobach’s proposal is to reinstate “a national registry of immigrants and visitors who enter the United States on visas from countries where extremist organizations are active.” That registry, called the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), was in place from 2002 to 2011. As ThinkProgress reported Tuesday, it registered 93,000 people. Roughly 13,740 immigrants were placed in deportation proceedings, but the registry didn’t result in a single prosecution.

Between 110,000 and 120,000 Japanese Americans were interred in camps during World War II. In 1988, President Reagan signed legislation reimbursing those who were incarcerated and offering them an official apology.

“No payment can make up for those lost years,” President Reagan said at a bill signing news conference. “So what is most important in this ball has less to do with property than with honor. For here, we admit a wrong. Here, we reaffirm our commitment as a nation to equal justice under the law.”

Kobach is reportedly in the mix to become Trump’s attorney general.

Trump said he’d “absolutely” implement a Muslim registry while running for the Republican nomination last November, according to the New York Times.

Pressed on how that would differ from requiring Jews to register in Nazi Germany, Trump didn’t answer the question. Instead, he repeatedly told a reporter, “You tell me.”

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Aaron Rupar comes to ThinkProgress from Minnesota, where he was established as a staff writer for the Minneapolis City Pages covering everything from crime to state politics to cultural news and back again. He also worked as a digital producer for the Twin Cities Fox TV affiliate and as a communications staffer for the Democratic caucus in the Minnesota House of Representatives. Outside the newsroom, Aaron enjoys NBA basketball (particularly the Minnesota Timberwolves) and all sorts of live music. He's an accomplished jazz and rock n' roll drummer who's looking to network with musicians in DC, so if you know of a playing opportunity or news tip, please drop him a line. Aaron has a masters degree in philosophy from the University of Minnesota.

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