It didn't take long for the political season to go from hard ball to harder ball.

No sooner had the national conventions ended than Jason Chaffetz, the former field-goal kicker running for the U.S. Congress as a Republican from Utah, had his immigration policy blasted and ruled wide right by a sitting Democratic congressman from California.

Interesting timing, considering Chaffetz's immigration policy has been in place on his Web site since January.

And Election Day is less than eight weeks away.

The California congressman, Mike Honda, criticized Chaffetz for suggesting that illegal immigrants be held in detention facilities that have been referred to as "tent cities."

Honda likened the idea to the internment camps Japanese-Americans, himself included, were forced into during World War II as America waged war with Japan.

In 1942, when he was less than a year old, Honda, now 67, was sent with his family from California to a relocation center in eastern Colorado, where they remained for nearly two years.

Honda called Chaffetz's comments "more than just offensive and embarrassing to all Americans — they demonstrate a blatant disregard of the need to be vigilant in remembering the lessons learned from a disgraceful chapter in U.S. history."

I'm an American, and the only comments I find offensive and embarrassing are Rep. Honda's.

To compare the World War II internment camps to today's immigrant issue is like comparing night to day, yin to yang, black to white, Obama to McCain.

They're exactly the same, other than the fact that they are entirely different.

The Japanese-American internees weren't found guilty of anything and were put behind bars. Illegal immigrants, by the very definition of the term, are guilty but are often not put behind bars.

Worse, Honda suggested Chaffetz's immigration policy "fuels resentment toward targeted ethnic groups," implying racism. That prompted Chaffetz to demand an apology, saying Honda "stepped over the line there."

Leaped would be more like it.

Honda can argue all day that imprisoning illegal immigrants is the wrong way to go, if that's how he feels, but bringing ethnicity into it and comparing it to a wartime policy he calls "one of the most shameful periods in American history" is the definition of non sequitur.

The Japanese-American internees were locked up because of their race and not their actions.

Illegal immigrants are locked up (or proposed to be locked up) because of their actions and not their race.

I know and respect Mike Honda. A couple of years ago, I interviewed him when I was writing a book about American soldiers held captive by the Japanese during World War II. I included an entire chapter about how Honda, the infant war internee, used his influence in the U.S. Congress to pass a House resolution honoring the former POWs and appealed to the U.S. courts to grant them redress against the Japanese companies that used them as slave labor during the war. (The courts ultimately refused the case, citing the 1951 peace treaty between America and Japan).

I wasn't the only one impressed that a person of Japanese descent, and one who was imprisoned by America during the war, would be so objective to not see race and seek only justice in what became known as the JPOW case.

But now, when a Republican is running for a congressional seat in Utah that appears vulnerable to the Democrats because Chaffetz is an upstart who unexpectedly ousted six-term Republican Congressman Chris Cannon in the primaries, I am not so impressed as he uses a flimsy comparison and plays the race card just as campaign season heats up.

The immigration issue is a thorny one at best, with no easy solutions; it doesn't help matters any when emotional attacks only inflame the debate.


Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to [email protected] and faxes to 801-237-2527.