Japanese Americans stand in line awaiting orders related to internment

Japanese American detainees await government instructions related to internment circa early 1940s. Opinion columnist Keisha Lopes argues that fears surrounding novel coronavirus could set up the U.S. government to repeat its past injustices against Asian Americans.

As the coronavirus continues to take its toll on the world, fears about the virus are growing as well. Aside from the fear of contracting the virus, we should be more fearful of the implications that it could take on our democracy. 

On Jan. 30, the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a “public health emergency of international concern,” and the virus is now active in 37 international locations. Since the first reported case in Wuhan, China, the virus has spread rapidly across the globe, making its way to several Asian and Middle Eastern countries, the United States and Europe.

Since the outbreak first began, there have been 19 reported Coronavirus cases in the U.S. Public fears have been heightened surrounding the disease, as the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has expressed uncertainty in how to contain it, amid alleged threats of budget cuts for the coming fiscal year. These concerns mounted on Wall Street as the market took a sharp dip on Monday.

But the coronavirus has yet to take its full toll on Americans, as our basic rights may come under attack because of the disease. 

On Monday, the Californian city of Costa Mesa battled the federal courts against efforts to hold those infected with the virus in state-run facilities. Despite the desire to protect themselves from the fateful disease, community members fear the implications of a state-level controlled quarantine. Nearly 60 people infected by the virus have been isolated on U.S. military bases, but face relocation to a state-run facility if the courts deem it plausible. 

At a time when the coronavirus is running rampant and there has yet to be a viable solution to contain its growth, Americans deserve the right to protect themselves from this fateful disease.

The uncertainty surrounding the virus leaves several factors up to chance, particularly how to contain it and minimize potential damages. However, the U.S. has a history of overcompensating, resulting in dark stains on our nation's history. The possibility of government-run facilities, particularly surrounding a problem rooted in Asia, feels too close to a particularly dark period in American history.

During the 1940s, the United States created Japanese internment camps, due to fears that lingered following attacks on Pearl Harbor. What began as an act of national security, became a symbol of racism and a lack of humanity in American history. 

Though the intentions are to protect the security of American citizens, the concept of government-run facilities targeting Asian Americans, or those coming from Asia, does not exude comfort.

In attempts to contain the coronavirus, the use of facilities may have a snowball effect, as there are not any existing guidelines to provide oversight. There are not any regulations, limitations, or guidelines that would protect the rights of individuals in the facilities, which could lead to violations of basic human rights. 

Much like the events that occurred in the 1940s, the intentions of the U.S. government began as a national security measure, but spiraled in actions motivated by racism. While this may not be the case, it is critical to remember our history; however dark it may be. 

In remembering our history, we are able to avoid our past mistakes. Unfortunately, this may be a time where our memories may have to guide our future.  

Keisha Lopes is a senior from Denver studying political science and international studies.