Washington, D.C. August 10, 1988

On this date in 1988 U.S. President Ronald Regan signed into law the Civil Liber­ties Act of 1988. Regan’s signa­ture corrected a wrong that occurred when another Amer­i­can pres­i­dent, Franklin D. Roose­velt, issued Exec­u­tive Order 9066. The Febru­ary 19, 1942, order directly led to the exile and intern­ment of more than 120,000 civil­ians of “enemy” (i.e., Japa­nese) ances­try in U.S. con­cen­tra­tion camps and other holding loca­tions (including a fed­er­al peni­ten­ti­ary). The major­ity of those interned in what the govern­ment euphe­mis­tically called “relo­ca­tion centers” (see map below) were Amer­i­can-born citi­zens (Nisei). Others were Japa­nese nationals whom the law (prior to 1952) pre­vented from becoming natu­ral­ized U.S. citi­zens. Worse still: over half the inter­nees were chil­dren. Wrong­fully stripped of their rights and free­doms and incar­ce­rated with­out due legal pro­cess, the over­whel­ming majo­rity of those swept up by Roose­velt’s exec­u­tive order and Public Pro­cla­ma­tion No. 1, which estab­lished West Coast mili­tary exclu­sion zones, would spend the next two-to-five years of their life in cap­tivity behind barbed wire fences and armed guards.

The Civil Liberties Act of 1988 (Public Law 100-383) had a long his­tory leading up to it. Late in World War II (Janu­ary 1945) and for months after­wards, the camps emptied them­selves of their resi­dents. The last to close—this on March 20, 1946—was Tule Lake Segre­ga­tion Cen­ter, which held of all things “dis­loyal” incar­ce­rees. Departing inter­nees were given $25 and a one-way bus or train ticket and told to re-estab­lish their lives as best they could. Under the cir­cum­stances that was hard to do. Many adults had lost every­thing to their name: homes, cars, boats in the case of fisher­men, farms and ranches, mom and pop stores, civil ser­vice jobs, savings accounts, etc. Often former incar­ce­rees returned to com­mu­ni­ties where war­time prej­u­dices and hostility against their race still lingered.

The process of redressing a national wrong was a long one, par­ti­ally because Japa­nese Amer­i­cans were of mixed mind. Some suf­fered pain and shame that, as a commu­nity, they had done some­thing wrong to bring this consti­tu­tional vio­la­tion upon them­selves. When the dis­cus­sion turned to mone­tary redress for their lost years of life and pro­per­ty, some saw that as a dis­trac­tion from the main issue of egre­gious con­sti­tu­tional vio­la­tions. Placing a price tag on vio­la­tions of consti­tu­tional rights was down­right insult­ing in their view. Finally, there was an argu­ment that favored an offi­cial apo­logy from the govern­ment as well as mone­tary com­pen­sa­tion, even if the latter was largely sym­bo­lic. This last argu­ment gathered sup­port and resulted in the pres­ti­gious Japa­nese Amer­i­can Citi­zens League passing a reso­lu­tion in 1978 demanding a pre­si­den­tial apology and monetary reparations.

Hawaii’s powerful Japanese American senator, Daniel Inouye, pro­posed what he saw as a sen­si­ble incre­men­tal approach to righting a national wrong; namely, crea­ting a fed­er­al com­mis­sion to research and inves­ti­gate the war­time incar­ce­ra­tion expe­ri­ence of those of Japa­nese heri­tage. The Com­mis­sion on War­time Relo­ca­tion and Intern­ment of Civil­ians (CWRIC), autho­rized by the U.S. Con­gress in July 1980, received testi­mony from over 750 wit­nesses ranging from those who designed and imple­mented the war relo­ca­tion camps to those who spent years in them.

The CWRIC issued its report, Personal Justice Denied, on Febru­ary 24, 1983. The camps were wrong, it stated, the result of “race prej­u­dice, war hyste­ria, and a fail­ure of polit­i­cal leader­ship.” In sepa­rate Recom­men­da­tions released in June that year, the com­mis­sion called for a presi­den­tial apol­o­gy and mone­tary redress pay­ments of $20,000 (equiv­a­lent to more than $52,000 in 2023) to each of the roughly 60,000 sur­vi­ving Japa­nese Amer­icans affected by Exec­u­tive Order 9066. Five years of lobbying House and Senate mem­bers to ratify HR 442—the name of the bill evoked the mem­ory of the U.S. Army’s Japa­nese Amer­i­can 100th/442nd Regi­men­tal Com­bat Team—landed the bill on Pres­i­dent Regan’s desk. His sig­na­ture turned the bill into law. On Octo­ber 9, 1990, in a cere­mony in the nation’s capital, the first 9 of 82,219 redress payments were made.

Executive Order 9066 Cleared the Way for the Forced Exile and Relocation of West Coast Enemy Aliens and Japanese Americans to a New Existence in Internment Camps Far From Their Homes

Executive Order 9066: U.S. internment camps for Japanese Americans and enemy aliens

Above: Map showing (a) the massive West Coast World War II exclusion area (Mili­tary Areas 1 and 2) and (b) intern­ment camps in the conti­nental U.S. for Japa­nese Amer­i­cans as well as for over 31,000 sus­pected enemy aliens and their fami­lies interned under the Enemy Alien Con­trol Pro­gram (Presi­den­tial Pro­cla­ma­tions 2525, 2526, and 2527). The 10­ hastily built intern­ment camps, euphe­mis­tically called “relo­ca­tion centers,” are iden­ti­fied by black tri­angles. The camps were built in seven states all west of the Mis­sis­sippi. All the camps were remote; many were situ­ated in deso­late deserts or swamps. U.S. Depart­ment of Justice-admin­is­tered camps (there were 27) and U.S. Army camps (18) are repre­sented by stars; for example, Fort Mis­soula Intern­ment Camp in Mon­tana and Fort Lin­coln Intern­ment Camp five miles south of Bismarck, North Dakota. It was to these often former Civil­ian Con­ser­va­tion Corps camps that people arrested in Decem­ber 1941 and early 1942—that is, before Exec­u­tive Order 9066 was in place—as well as thou­sands of German and Italian nationals living in the U.S. or deported from Central and South America were brought. In the map legend, WCCA = War­time Civil Con­trol Admin­is­tra­tion, WRA = War Relo­ca­tion Autho­rity. Pur­portedly for their own safety roughly 75,000 Japa­nese Amer­i­can citizens and 45,000 Japa­nese nationals living in the U.S., a number equiv­a­lent to the popu­la­tion of Wil­ming­ton, N.C., would even­tu­ally be torn from their homes, neigh­bor­hoods, farms, fishing boats, and places of employ­ment and wor­ship in Califor­nia (where the majority lived), West­ern Oregon and Wash­ing­ton, and South­ern Ari­zona as part of the single-largest forced relo­ca­tion in U.S. history. The Poston War Relo­cation Cen­ter on the Colo­rado Indi­an Reser­va­tion south of Parker was the largest such camp in America (peak popu­la­tion 17,814). Housing Japa­nese Amer­i­cans mostly from South­ern and Cen­tral Cali­fornia, Posten became the third-largest “city” in Arizona at the time. Together with the Rivers War Relo­ca­tion Center on the Gila River Indian Reser­va­tion south­east of Phoenix, the two sites grew to hold 30,000 peo­ple of Japa­nese descent, most of them Amer­i­can citi­zens. In Hawaii, where 150,000-plus Japa­nese Amer­i­cans com­prised over one-third of the popu­la­tion, only 1,200 to 1,800 were removed to the mainl­and and interned. On the Hawaiian island of Oahu, there were 17 intern­ment sites, the largest and longest-operating being Honou­liuli Intern­ment Camp, which held 320 in­ternees and 4,000 pri­soners of war. For their own “pro­tec­tion,” nearly 900 indig­e­nous Aleuts were rounded up and interned in aban­doned salmon can­neries near Alaska’s capital Juneau, 2,000 miles from their island vil­lages, which were burned to the ground as part of a “scorched earth” policy. On Decem­ber 17, 1944, the Roose­velt admin­is­tra­tion rescinded Executive Order 9066, ending mass forced reloca­tion and allowing internees to return to the West Coast exclu­sion area (Mili­tary Areas 1 and 2). Except for Tule Lake, the WRA camps would be emptied by the end of 1945.

Executive Order 9066: San Francisco newspaper headline, February 27, 1942Executive Order 9066: Posted exclusion order

Left: “OUSTER OF ALL JAPS IN CALIFORNIA NEAR!” San Francisco Examiner head­lines of Japa­nese relo­ca­tion, Febru­ary 27, 1942. Photo by Doro­thea Lange. Lange was one of three photo­graphers in the WRA Photo­graphy Section, or WRAPS, in 1942–1943. The other two were Clem Albers and Francis Stewart.

Right: Official notice of exclusion and removal, April 1, 1942. Photo­graph by Dorothea Lange. The posted exclu­sion order directed Japa­nese Amer­icans living in the first San Francisco sec­tion to evac­u­ate. Years before the Decem­ber 7, 1941, Japa­nese bombing of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, the U.S. govern­ment had drafted plans to intern some Japa­nese Amer­icans and immi­grant aliens and had already placed some West Coast com­mu­ni­ties under su­rveil­lance. This in spite of years worth of FBI and naval intel­ligence data that attested to resi­dents of Japanese descent posing no national security threat.

Executive Order 9066: Mochida family awaits evacuation bus, May 8, 1942Executive Order 9066: Young Japanese American evacuee and baggage, Spring 1942

Left: With luggage tags affixed to their clothing—an aid in keeping family units intact during all phases of their forced removal—members of the Mochida family await an evac­u­a­tion bus, Ala­meda County (San Francisco Bay area), Cali­for­nia, May 8, 1942. On the luggage tags was written the family’s desig­nated iden­ti­fi­ca­tion number. The family had oper­ated a two-acre nursery and green­house in Eden, Ala­meda County, before their incar­cer­ation. Photograph by Dorothea Lange.

Right: Staring into uncertainty 2-year-old Yuki Okinaga Haya­kawa, clutching a tiny purse and an apple with a few bites gone, waits with the family’s allot­ment of bag­gage before leaving Union Sta­tion in Los Angeles, even­tu­ally arriving with her mother at Man­za­nar War Relo­ca­tion Cen­ter, more than 200 miles away in Cali­for­nia’s Owens Valley, which would be her home for the next 3 years. Each family mem­ber was permitted to take bedding and linens (no mat­tress), toilet arti­cles, extra clothing, and “essen­tial per­sonal effects,” nothing more; in other words, only what could be carried. Photograph by Clem Albers.

Executive Order 9066: Poster protests summary evacuation order, Spring 1942President Reagan signs Civil Liberties Act of 1988

Left: This Oakland, California store closed in March 1942 following orders to persons of Japa­nese descent to evac­u­ate from certain West Coast areas (Military Area 1; see map above). The owner, a Uni­ver­sity of Cali­for­nia grad­u­ate, had placed the “I AM AN AMERI­CAN” sign on his store front on Decem­ber 8, the day after Pearl Harbor. Decla­ra­tions like this San Fran­cisco area store owner’s were insuf­fi­cient to over­come the suspi­cion and con­tempt directed at people who looked like the enemy and who, it was widely assumed at the time, remained loyal to Japan and its Emperor Hirohito (posthumously referred to as Emperor Shōwa). Photograph by Dorothea Lange.

Right: In 1944 the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the consti­tu­tionality of the exclu­sion orders, described by many Amer­i­cans as the worst offi­cial civil rights vio­la­tion of modern U.S. history. After years of law­suits and nego­ti­a­tions, on August 10, 1988, Presi­dent Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liber­ties Act of 1988, which formally acknowl­edged that the war­time exclu­sion, evac­u­a­tion, and intern­ment of Japa­nese Amer­i­cans had been unrea­son­able. The act granted $20,000 in repa­ra­tions to each sur­viving Japa­nese Amer­i­can (a little over 82,000 people), costing the U.S. Treas­ury $1.6 bil­lion (equi­va­lent to over $4.1 bil­lion today). It took a decade to locate all eligi­ble U.S. recip­i­ents and deliver them their checks and formal apol­ogy. In 1991 sur­vi­vors of the more than 2,200 Latin Amer­i­cans of Japa­nese descent who were evicted by their govern­ments and incar­cer­ated in U.S. camps were com­pen­sated with a piti­fully small $5,000 check.

Injustice Camouflaged as Military Necessity: Japanese American Intern­ment During World War II