A prominent supporter of President-elect Donald Trump cited the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II as a legal justification for creating a national registration list "for immigrants from Muslim countries."
Speaking to anchor Megyn Kelly on Fox News on Wednesday night, Carl Higbie, author of "Enemies, Foreign and Domestic: A SEAL's Story," defended the idea of creating a registry for such immigrants.
During the segment on "The Kelly File," the anchor referred to a Reuters story that quoted Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, an immigration hardliner who has helped write some of the nation's strictest immigration laws and is one of Trump's policy advisors. He said that Trump's advisors were discussing drafting a proposal to register immigrants from Muslim countries.
"It is legal. They say it'll hold constitutional muster. I know the ACLU is going to challenge it, but I think it'll pass," Higbie said. "… We did it during World War II with Japanese, which, you know, call it what you will, maybe —"
Kelly interjected: "Come on. You're not — you're not proposing we go back to the days of internment camps, I hope."
"No, no, no. I'm not proposing that at all, Megyn, but what I am saying is we need to protect America first," Higbie said, citing an anti-Semitic slogan used by isolationists in the 1940s that Trump reappropriated.
"You know better than to suggest that," Kelly said. "I mean, that's the kind of stuff that gets people scared, Carl."
"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 —" Higbie said.
"You can't be citing Japanese internment camps as precedent for anything the president-elect is going to do," Kelly reiterated.
Answered 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."
In one of the darkest chapters in U.S. history, more than 120,000 Japanese Americans from West Coast states were ordered to evacuate their homes and businesses between 1942 and 1945 and were relocated to internment camps in remote, desolate areas, surrounded by barbed wire and guards in watchtowers.
Interned Japanese Americans lost their livelihoods and property. Supreme Court decisions upheld the use of racial criteria in the curfew order and the constitutionality of the military detention process.
An order in 1944 ruled that the War Relocation Authority could not detain U.S. citizens shown to be loyal, effectively ending incarceration.
In 1988, President Reagan signed legislation that issued a formal government apology and reparations for the internment. "We admit a wrong," Reagan said. "Here we reaffirm our commitment as a nation to equal justice under the law."
Rep. Judy Chu (D-Monterey Park) called "abhorrent" any proposal to force Muslims to register with the federal government and using Japanese American imprisonment as precedent.
"These ideas are based on tactics of fear, division and hate that we must condemn," Chu said in a statement. "Like Japanese incarceration, imposing a registry upon American Muslims goes against our constitutional values and our very principles as a nation."
Trump's immigration advisors have reportedly begun drafting orders he can issue on his first day in office to increase the number of deportation officers. Asked last week whether he would work with lawmakers to ban Muslim immigrants, Trump walked away without answering.
Kobach, who helped draft the Arizona statute that once required police officers to check immigration status during routine traffic stops, also worked in the Department of Justice under President George W. Bush. He helped design an immigration program after the 9/11 attacks that came under fire for a requirement that new visitors to the U.S. from countries where terrorism was a concern be interviewed, photographed and fingerprinted.
The program roiled the Iranian exile community in Los Angeles in 2002, after hundreds of men and teenagers were arrested on immigration violations when they reported to authorities. Many of the exiles are foes of Iran's Islamic theocracy.
The Department of Homeland Security ended the program in 2011.
1:20 p.m.: This article was updated with a statement from Rep. Judy Chu.