A prominent Donald Trump surrogate and former spokesman for the pro-Trump Great America PAC on Wednesday suggested taking away immigrants’ constitutional rights and said there is “precedent” for enforcing a registry of all Muslim Americans: the internment camps Japanese Americans were held in during the World War II era.
The comments led to the Trump team denying the president-elect ever called for a Muslim registry at all.
In an interview on Fox’s “The Kelly File” on Wednesday, Carl Higbie was discussing Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s recent suggestion that Trump’s team follow up on his campaign call for a national registry of Muslims.
“They say it’ll hold Constitutional muster,” Higbie said. “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 it during World War II with [the] Japanese, which, call it what you will, may be wrong.”
“Come on. You’re not proposing we go back to the days of internment camps, I hope,” Kelly said. “You know better than to suggest that. That’s the kind of stuff that gets people scared, Carl.”
“Right,” Higbie said. “But 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 base —”
“You can’t be citing Japanese internment camps as precedent for anything the president-elect is going to do,” Kelly said.
“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,” Higbie said.
“You get the protections — once you come here,” Kelly said.
Japanese Americans have responded, including Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), whose own family members were imprisoned during the era of internment.
“I am horrified that people connected to the incoming Administration are using my family’s experience as a precedent for what President-elect Trump could do,” Takano said in a statement. “These comments confirm many Americans’ worst fears about the Trump Administration, and they reflect an alarming resurgence of racism and xenophobia in our political discourse.”
Takano called the use of the camps “one of the darkest chapters in American history.”
Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.), who herself was born in an internment camp, took to Twitter to urge Americans not to go backwards in history.
“This type of rhetoric by Mr. Higbie is outrageous, unacceptable and reckless,” Matsui said. “The unjust internment of Japanese Americans during World War II was a painful period during our history, but we have taken great strides as a country to heal those wounds and move forward.”
My statement on the outrageous, unacceptable & reckless remarks by President-Elect Trump supporter citing WWII Japanese American internment. pic.twitter.com/kQo9xA1nZ5
— Rep. Doris Matsui (@DorisMatsui) November 17, 2016
Higbie’s interview prompted a response from the Trump team. CNN’s Jim Acosta tweeted the full statement from Jason Miller, a spokesman for Trump’s presidential transition team.
“President-elect Trump has never advocated for any registry or system that tracks individuals based on their religion, and to imply otherwise is completely false,” Miller’s statement reads in part.
Full statement from Jason Miller re Trump and Muslim registry pic.twitter.com/38VctEk7X8
— Jim Acosta (@Acosta) November 18, 2016
However, during Trump’s campaign, he said he would “absolutely” implement a system that required Muslims to register themselves.
“There should be a lot of systems, beyond databases, we should have a lot of systems,” he said at the time.
And Kobach, who is reportedly a key member of Trump’s transition team and who also helped write tough immigration laws in Arizona and elsewhere, said in an interview that Trump’s policy advisers had discussed drafting a proposal for his consideration to reinstate a registry for immigrants from Muslim countries.
To implement Trump’s call for “extreme vetting” of some Muslim immigrants, Kobach said the immigration policy group could recommend the reinstatement of a national registry of immigrants and visitors who enter the United States on visas from countries where extremist organizations are active.
Kobach helped design the program, known as the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), while serving in Republican President George W. Bush’s Department of Justice after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States by al Qaeda militants.
Under NSEERS, people from countries deemed “higher risk” were required to undergo interrogations and fingerprinting on entering the United States. Some non-citizen male U.S. residents over the age of 16 from countries with active militant threats were required to register in person at government offices and periodically check in.
Reuters material contributed to this report.