Rep. Doris Matsui on Donald Trump: ‘We are a nation of immigrants’

Rep. Doris Matsui speaks at the University of California, Davis, convocation event in September.
Rep. Doris Matsui speaks at the University of California, Davis, convocation event in September. The Sacramento Bee

Rep. Doris Matsui, a Sacramento Democrat, has been a vocal critic of Donald Trump in the days since he called for a block on Muslim immigrants entering the United States. Trump, the Republican presidential frontrunner, compared his stance to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s authorization of the detention of U.S. residents of Japanese, German and Italian ancestry during World War II.

Matsui’s family members were among the 120,000 Japanese Americans forcibly relocated to internment camps during the war, and she was born in an Arizona camp. Her late husband, Rep. Robert Matsui, was one of the sponsors of a 1988 law that officially apologized for the wartime action, blaming “race prejudice and war hysteria,” and provided reparations for survivors.

In an interview Sunday, Matsui offered her thoughts on Trump’s comments and on what America should do to address the threat of terrorism. Here are excerpts of her responses.

Q: What concerns you about Donald Trump’s proposal?

A: In 1988, when Congress approved reparations and an apology to Japanese Americans incarcerated during World War II, the country admitted a mistake, and we were supposed to learn from history. I was born in an internment camp. It really did impact my parents’ generation, who were citizens doing all the right things, and all of a sudden, because of World War II, they were not looked at as individuals but as a group.

Casting a shadow on everyone, not just individuals doing these bad things, is not the American way. My office has heard from Sacramento Muslim leaders. Sacramento is a diverse community, and we have always worked together. We want to keep our families safe. There is something to fear, but if we let that take over we will never find a solution.

What you don’t want is to let this hate-filled atmosphere persist. (Trump) becomes a megaphone for people who are afraid and not willing to look at the facts.

Q: What solutions do you recommend?

A: We have to reform some of the visa programs; methods of screening have to be upgraded. There needs to be more (investigative) intensity.

Social media is a big part of this. Obviously, there are things going on that aren’t checked out automatically. We have to get smart about this, really improve our intelligence and have more coordination. The FBI works separately, immigration works separately, intelligence works separately.

We have to be able to get the right information in a timely manner, but we can’t make a blanket statement: “No Muslims.” What do the people in the rest of the world, especially our detractors, think about that – ‘Look at the U.S. and how they treat their people.’ We are a smart people. Let’s figure out how to solve this with the principles we have.

Q: Why are you so vocal on this issue?

A: I speak as an American. We’re not just one color, one religion. We are a nation of immigrants inviting people from all over the world. And that is our greatness, that’s why we have so much culture, art, innovation and creativity.

My concern is that as these untruths (about immigrants) go out there, people will believe them. That’s why it’s important for Americans of all backgrounds to step up and say something.

Stephen Magagnini: 916-321-1072, @StephenMagagnini