Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn) Reintroduces the Neighbors Not Enemies Act to Repeal the Law Used to Incarcerate Japanese During World War II

By Austin Hideo Eng and Mike Honda, Former Member of Congress, San Jose JACL

Under the leadership of Mike Honda and David Inouye, members of the San Jose JACL worked to assist Representative Ilhan Omar (D-Minn) in the reintroduction of the Neighbors Not Enemies Act. This law repeals the Alien Enemies Act of 1798 - the law used to arrest and incarcerate Japanese, Italians and Germans living in America on national security justifications without evidence of wrongdoing during WWII.

As a former incarceree at Amache in Colorado, Mike Honda opened the Congressional briefing on Capitol Hill with an impassioned speech explaining why the Alien Enemies Act needs to be repealed immediately to prevent history from repeating itself. It remains an important goal of the JACL to repeal the Alien Enemies Act because it is an archaic law that has been used to single out racial and religious minorities and deny them due process rights to challenge their arrest, confinement or deportation.

“We are prepared for another long fight to right a wrong,” Honda said. “In 1970, the JACL approved a resolution to pursue reparations for Japanese Americans incarcerated during World War II – it took 18 years of hard work before President Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 into law. I pray that it won’t take long to repeal the Alien Enemies Act because it is very straightforward,” Honda said.

Mike Honda, Susan Corke
and Rep Omar speaking
at the Congressional Briefing on Capitol Hill

As a former refugee and the first Somali American member of Congress, Rep. Omar is committed to the repeal of the Alien Enemies Act alongside Honda because the same law was used by former President Donald J. Trump to justify the Muslim Travel Ban that stopped entry into the U.S. by people from seven predominantly Muslim countries. Presidential action was partially based on the executive power afforded by the Alien Enemies Act that was triggered when the Global War on Terrorism was declared in 2001 in response to the 9/11 attacks.

In 2017, the President banned immigration into the U.S. for people from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. The impact went as far as to stop people from the seven countries who were legally working, living and visiting the U.S. under H1B1 work visas, foreign students and other foreign nationals from entering the country.

Rep. Omar is one of the first two Muslim women to serve in Congress. As a result of her background, she has been the target of several death threats, as well as derogatory comments by various political opponents. Born in Mogadishu, Somalia, her family fled Somalia to escape the Somali Civil War and spent four years in a Dadaab refugee camp near the Somali border. Omar's family secured asylum in the U.S., arriving in New York in 1995.

This year marks the 81st anniversary of the incarceration of Japanese Americans and the Alien Enemies Act continues to be used to target  groups based solely on their nationality. The Alien Enemies Act remains a powerful threat to innocent immigrants from countries with a threat of or at war with the U.S. Similar anti-immigrant sentiments are seen today with “Alien” land laws banning land ownership by Chinese and other nationalities proposed or recently passed in Florida, Texas, Arkansas, Virginia, Montana and Wyoming.

Thank you to the  hardworking JACL staff who made this happen: David Inoue, Executive Director, Bridget Keaveney, Norman Y. Mineta Policy Fellow, Michael Tanaka, Daniel K. Inouye Fellow, Matthew Weisbly, Education and Communications Coordinator, Alex Shinkawa, former intern, and Cheyenne Cheng, Youth and Programs Manager.


Bridget Keaveney and Austin Eng
working with Rep Omar’s office in DC

Authors: Austin Hideo Eng is a youth member of the San Jose JACL and member of the team working to repeal the Alien Enemies Act. He is currently Editor-In-Chief of Verde Magazine, Palo Alto High School’s  news and features magazine. Former Congressman, Mike Honda (D-CA) served 17 years in the House of Representatives from 2001-2017.