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Hirono: Immigrant detention ‘very reminiscent’ of Japanese-American internment during WWII

Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, says border security can be done in many different ways, but President Trump has “chosen the cruelest way to do it.” Hirono, the only immigrant currently serving in the Senate, talks with Lisa Desjardins about what Congress should do, her own family’s story of separation, as well as her reaction to the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the president’s travel ban.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    We turn now to Capitol Hill, where, as congressional correspondent Lisa Desjardins reports, there's new fallout after today's Supreme Court decisions and the ongoing immigration debate.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    While House Republicans struggle on a compromise immigration bill, members of the Senate are showing more signs of bipartisanship, but it might not be enough for a solution to the immigration battle brewing on the Hill.

    Senator Mazie Hirono is a Democrat from Hawaii and the only immigrant currently serving in the Senate, having come to the U.S. from Japan as a child with her mother and brother.

    Senator Hirono, we're going to talk about immigration and child separation.

    But, first, I want to start with the news of the day, the decision by the Supreme Court on the president's travel ban. You have had some very strong words, comparing this to the Korematsu decision allowing Japanese internment.

    Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the decision that he said that was wholly inapt, to liken that to morally repugnant order to this one today.

    Is he right? Why is that a fair comparison?

  • Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii:

    Well, I am not the only one who is making the comparison to the Korematsu.

    In fact, Sonia Sotomayor, Justice Sotomayor, in her dissent, also likened this decision to the Korematsu case, which was also justified on the basis of it was for national security.

    And that is what the president is saying regarding his Muslim ban, or at least that's the argument being made, even though, during the campaign and even after, he made it very plain. He was very overt about wanting to prevent Muslims from coming to this country.

    And they cleaned it up in the third iteration, or fourth iteration, of his Muslim ban, but it's still a Muslim ban. And now the Supreme Court has handed him, basically, wide powers to do whatever else he wants. Just call it national security. And they will not go behind the words of the executive order itself to raise the kind of issues that — where our president in this case, as noted by the dissents.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Senator, of course, many Republicans say it's not a Muslim ban. But I want to talk to you about the other issue going on right now, and that's on child and family separation.

    And you have a unique personal perspective on this. Do you mind telling us the story of your younger brother?

  • Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii:

    Well, when I was brought to this country by my mother when I was about 7, my older brother, who was 9, came with us.

    And my mother had to leave my younger brother, who was only 3 years old at the time, because she was escaping an abusive marriage, and she would be our sole breadwinner. She brought the two older kids, us, because we could go to school, and there was nobody to take care of my younger brother, who was too young to go to school.

    So my younger brother never overcame the trauma of that separation. And he would ask my grandparents, who raised him during this period, every single day, looking at our pictures, when are they coming home?

    It broke my grandmother's heart, and I still get emotional talking about it now.

    So I know the trauma that separation creates, and this is what the president did to 2,400 children, and then not, too long after, basically he's saying, never mind, as though it makes it all go away.

    And, by the way, there's still chaos as to how this administration is going to reunite all of these children with their parents. It's just unconscionable and cruel. But he takes no responsibility for it, and he continues to blame everybody else, takes no responsibility for it.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    This is a heartbreaking situation. I'm very sorry for what your brother went through.

    The question is, what does Congress do now? And it seems that Republicans in Congress are moving toward bills that would detain families together. How do you feel about that?

  • Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii:

    Well, you know what? Detention, what is that? And for indefinite periods of time of time? That's also unconscionable.

    And the bottom line is, it is the erroneous policy to begin with. It's the zero tolerance that means every single person who can be prosecuted — it could be hundreds of thousands of people who need to be prosecuted criminally. There is no justification. There is no national security justification for that.

    It is that underlying policy that led to the children being separated from their parents to begin with, and that is now leading to mass detentions to facilities that we don't even have.

    And so now the military is coming in to put up these detention facilities, again, very reminiscent of what happened to the Japanese Americans during World War II.

    I'm not the only one who raises that kind of comparison. It was Laura Bush who said we cannot repeat that kind of unconscionable action that destroyed the lives of all those Japanese American families.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Are you concerned, if Democrats do not compromise in some way, do not go along with the idea of family detention, the president has indicated that he will, perhaps, separate families again?

    Are you willing to take that risk by not agreeing to the Republicans' idea?

  • Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii:

    You know, the question should be, is he willing to take that risk? He's already gotten a lot of angry people. This is the reason that he backed off. Is he willing to take that risk?

    Why is that it always put on other people? Why does he not take responsibility for the chaos that he himself created? So I say to the president, undo what you did.

    You know, border security can be done in many different ways, but you have chosen the cruelest way to do it. And this doesn't have to be. Why put it on other people? I ask you the same question, Lisa.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, thank you.

  • Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii:

    Thank you.

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