Executive Orders & Resistance: Past, Present, and Future

On May 22 in Jordan Hall at Butler University, the Desmond Tutu Center hosted an event called “Executive Orders & Resistance: Past, Present, and Future”.  The event was reminiscent of a 1960’s “Teach-in” where speakers placed the recent controversial Executive Orders on immigration into historical context, and helped the audience understand how Executive Orders have been used in the past to create legal “walls”, visible and invisible, against racial minorities. The speakers from the event were Dr. David Suzuki, Director of the Equity Institute on Race, Culture and Transformative Action, Waseema Ali, Managing Director of the Desmond Tutu Center, and Patricia Castañeda, Steering Committee Member with Women4Change Indiana.

Dr. Suzuki began his portion of the event by showing a young Japanese couple holding a baby in front of an internment camp where Japanese-Americans were forced to live after the outbreak of WWII. Dr. Suzuki himself was the baby from the photo that was born in what he calls a concentration camp in the Pacific Northwest that was mandated by Executive Order 9066 in 1942. The seclusion of Japanese-Americans during and after WWII is a little discussed executive action that was followed by a long period of increased racist activity directed towards Asian Americans. Dr. Suzuki went on to explain that Executive Order 9066 can trace its roots to the anti-Chinese movement after the discovery of gold in California that culminated in a ‘legal wall’ known as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which banned the immigration of the Chinese until the mid-twentieth century. Dr. Suzuki said that in the case of both the Chinese Exclusion Act and Executive Order 9066, there was an accompanying increase in bullying, hate, racist vocalizations, inhumane deportations, and hate crime against people of color. He concluded by reiterating that “walls need not be physical, walls, bans, deportations, and their justifications often mask racist intent…we cannot address the hate until we have challenged the racism”.

Dr. Suzuki passed the microphone to Ali, who then discussed the most recent Executive Order 13769 titled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States” that was originally signed in January, 2017, and was later revised and released in March, 2017. This Executive Order is commonly referred to as the “Muslim Ban” and is the first of its kind to ban people from a specific nationality entering the United States since the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882. As a Muslim-American lawyer, Ali was able to translate current criticisms by sitting Judges against the order stating the violation of due process and freedom of religion. The Executive Order also threw our political system into turmoil because it was signed without the approval of the State Department, which led to many legal residents, green card holders, and naturalized citizens being detained in airports across the country. Aside from the moral dilemma, the Executive Order was also criticized by legal scholars and others for being ineffective, as the countries selected on the list (Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen) were seemingly arbitrarily chosen.

Next, Castañeda told the story of the period surrounding the Great Depression known as the Mexican Repatriation that was characterized by rampant anti-immigrant sentiments and racially motivated deportation on a mass scale. Social workers, welfare officials, police, and citizens all participated in “round-ups,” in which anyone with “a Mexican sounding name” was told to pack a bag and then escorted to a holding station before being put on a train to Mexico. In a span of less than a decade, an estimated 1.8 million people were deported, 60% of whom were United States citizens. Sadly, these people were unable to prove their citizenship after crossing the border because they were not given the time to pack any documents such as their birth certificate or passport. Castañeda shared what many people choose not to discuss: the United States has a history of enacting legal barriers against non-white minorities. We forget because there is a real lack of information and public discourse on the subject.

During the post-talk Q&A session, many audience members were surprised to learn that from 1800-2017 the rhetoric regarding minorities has remained largely unchanged. Africans, Asians, Native Americans, Mexicans, and Muslims have all been falsely portrayed as savage, heathen, inassimilable, lustful, and dangerous people that are here to take American jobs or American women. One audience member asked how we could change this kind of behavior, and Castañeda replied that we must exercise our right to the freedom of expression to instigate change. She also suggested that people remember three facts from the event and start a conversation about what they had learned, by asking the question, “Did you know…”All of the speakers agreed that in order to progress beyond the forces of racism, we must encourage civil discourse and remember the past so that we do not repeat the same mistakes.

Partners: Women4Change Indiana and IUPUI’s Equity Institute on Race, Culture, and Transformative Action

By: Corbin Panturad

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