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Civil rights activists, OU law professors discuss immigration, segregation after screening of 'And Then They Came for Us'

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And Then They Came for Us Panel

A panel with Karen Korematsu, Don Tamaki, Taiawagi Helton and Rick Tepker speak about the documentary "And Then They Came for Us" Oct. 7.

A panel of OU law professors and civil rights figures spoke about past and present U.S. segregation battles at an OU Law documentary screening Monday.

The featured documentary, “And Then They Came for Us,” depicted the forced removal of Japanese-Americans after the bombing of Pearl Harbor — and Fred Korematsu, who refused to comply with the removal. After the screening, Karen Korematsu, daughter of Fred Korematsu and executive director of the Fred T. Korematsu Institute, as well as Don Tamaki, attorney in Korematsu v. United States, took part in a panel discussion with two OU law professors. 

Fred Korematsu maintained hope that the Constitution would be upheld for over 40 years until his case was reopened, even through a period of ostracization that his own people put him through after the first case, Karen said.

“(Fred) never blamed anyone. He just lived by his principles of right and wrong,” Karen said.

The panel said issues that were seen during Japanese-American internment are still seen today, and the discussion addressed the attempted Muslim travel ban and current U.S. immigration laws regarding Central Americans.

“As a population, we all need to speak up on our own behalf, and others need to speak up, because these are the issues that really approach the racial profiling issue that we need to fight against,” Karen said.

Refugee restrictions put in place by the Supreme Court and the president can also cause division in the country and allow democracy to fade, Tamaki said.

“(Refugee laws) are all done under the authority of the power of the executive. If this is done without question, under the disguise that this all makes the nation safer ... this is where democracy starts eroding away,” Tamaki said. “Alternative facts sway over real ones, and free press is called the enemy of the people. This is how dictators get started. I mean, this is my sense — you begin to lose the country when there are policies like (immigration restrictions).”

The panel said past progress made by minority groups, such as the activism against segregation decades before Japanese-American internment, is also crucial to consider. 

“We ought to remember that, as our own community — how far we’ve come and who we should credit for opening those doors,” Tamaki said.

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