National Beat Reporter
Governor Gavin Newsom and the California state assembly unanimously declared Feb. 19 as the Day of Remembrance for the Japanese American internment during World War II. Almost eight decades after Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order to relocate all Japanese Americans to internment camps, California is formally apologizing for helping with the relocation.
“78 years after fear, hate, and division led to the signing of Executive Order 9066, California will formally apologize for its role in the internment of Japanese-Americans,” California Senator Kamala Harris tweeted. “We must never repeat these mistakes.”
Executive Order 9066 was signed on Feb. 19, 1942 as a response to the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor the previous December. Over 120,000 Japanese Americans were relocated to internment camps across the West Coast, even including World War I veterans. Any citizen that had 1/16 Japanese ancestry was evacuated. Two-thirds of the interns were nisei, or Japanese Americans born in the United States.
“On February 19, I ask that all Californians join me in solemn remembrance of the issuance of Executive Order 9066 on this day in 1942,” said Newsom in a press release.
The executive order was signed with the intention of preventing espionage, as Japanese Americans were suspected of remaining loyal to their ancestral land and feared as a security risk. This created a wave of hostility towards Japanese Americans across the states; some citizens weren’t even allowed to return to their homes even after the internment period was over.
Evacuation orders were posted throughout neighborhoods primarily populated by Japanese Americans, causing many families to sell their houses, stores, and most of their assets. Military zones were created in California, Washington and Oregon to set up internment camps. California had two internment camps in Manzanar and Tule Lake, the latter being the largest of all the camps.
Each relocation center was set up as a small town; they included schools, post offices, work facilities, and had farmland for growing food and keeping livestock. Despite this, those who were interned were often forced to sleep in places not meant for housing such as horse stalls or cowsheds. They had to struggle through food shortages and substandard sanitation facilities.
Some Japanese Americans protested the internment and saw it as unconstitutional. When Fred Korematsu was arrested in 1942 for refusing to relocate, he argued his case in the Supreme Court. Korematsu declared the executive order as a violation of his fifth amendment rights. The Supreme Court struck down his argument and sided with the government justifying that the executive order was a wartime necessity. Korematsu went on to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1998.
The internment camps functioned until 1945 when Mitsuye Endo argued her case in Endo v. United States. Endo was the daughter of Japanese immigrants living in Sacramento and filed a habeas corpus with the court to report unlawful detention. While the court offered to free her, she decided to wait because she wanted the issue to address the entirety of Japanese internment.
The Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the U.S. government could not continue to detain citizens that have “conceded loyalty” to the United States. Although the case did not touch on the unconstitutionality of excluding people of Japanese descent from the West Coast, it did ultimately lead to the closing of the internment camps.
Some California politicians are drawing parallels to Japanese American internment and some of America’s policies under the Trump administration. “On this day in 1942, the U.S. government authorized the internment of over 110,000 Japanese Americans. Today Trump is banning people from entering the U.S. from Muslim countries,” Representative Barbara Lee tweeted. “‘Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.’”
The last camp was closed in 1946 but it was not until 1976 that President Gerald Ford officially repealed the executive order. In 1988, Congress attempted to apologize for the evacuations by passing the Civil Liberties Act that offered reparations of $20,000 to each surviving victim of internment. Over 80,000 Japanese Americans received the payment.
Other states are acknowledging the atrocity by declaring Feb. 19 as a Day of Remembrance as well. Idaho and Arkansas recently announced that day as a Day of Remembrance. Washington held the first Day of Remembrance event in 1978 and Oregon held events beginning in 1979.
“Today we remember the internment of nearly 12,000 Japanese Americans during World War II,” Senator Dianne Feinstein tweeted on Thursday. “Let’s vow to never return to a time of such hatred and bigotry of our fellow Americans and strive to reject xenophobia wherever it appears.”