Japanese American internment refers to the forcible relocation and incarceration of approximately 110,000 Japanese nationals and Japanese Americans to housing facilities called "War Relocation Camps," in the wake of Imperial Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor. The incarceration of Japanese Americans was applied unequally throughout the United States. While this event is most commonly called the internment of Japanese Americans, in fact there were several different types of camps involved only a small number of which were officially internment camps. The best known facilities were the Assembly Centers run by the Wartime Civil Control Administration (WCCA), and the Relocation Centers run by the War Relocation Authority (WRA), which are generally (but unofficially) referred to as "internment camps." The Department of Justice (DOJ) operated camps officially called Internment Camps, which were used to detain those suspected of actual crimes or "enemy sympathies."
President Franklin Roosevelt authorized the relocations with Executive Order 9066, signed February 19, 1942, using his authority as Commander-in-Chief to exercise war powers, which allowed local military commanders to designate "military areas" as "exclusion zones," from which "any or all persons may be excluded." This power was used to declare that all people of Japanese ancestry were excluded from the entire Pacific coast, including all of California and most of Oregon and Washington, except for those in internment camps. In 1944, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the exclusion orders while noting that the provisions that singled out people of Japanese ancestry were a separate issue outside the scope of the proceedings.
In the years 1939–1941, the FBI compiled the Custodial Detention index ("CDI") on citizens, "enemy" aliens and foreign nationals, based principally on census records, in the interest of national security. On June 28, 1940, the Alien Registration Act was passed. Among many other "loyalty" regulations, Section 31 required the registration and fingerprinting of all aliens above the age of 14, and Section 35 required aliens to report any change of address within five days. Nearly five million foreign nationals registered at post offices around the country, in the subsequent months.
The attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 led to concern that the Japanese were preparing a full-scale attack on the West Coast of the United States. Japan's rapid military conquest of a large portion of Asia and the Pacific between 1936 and 1942 made their military forces seem quite formidable.
Reportedly, "within weeks of Pearl Harbor, Lieutenant General John L. DeWitt, head of the Western Command, requested approval to conduct search and seizure operations to prevent alien Japanese from making radio transmissions to Japanese ships." "The Justice Department refused, however, to seek the warrant without probable cause, the FBI concluded that the security threat was only a perceived one [and] in January, the FCC reported that the Army's fears were groundless."
Knowing that "public opinion would not support the direction of the Justice Department and the FBI, however […] DeWitt was undeterred." By January 2, "the Joint Immigration Committee of the California Legislature sent a manifesto to California newspapers summing up 'the historical catalogue of charges against the ethnic Japanese,' who, said the manifesto, were 'totally unassimilable.'" "The manifesto declared that all of Japanese descent were loyal to the Emperor, and attacked Japanese language schools as teaching Japanese racial superiority." "The committee had the support of the Native Sons and Daughters of the Golden West and the California Department of the American Legion, which in January demanded that all Japanese with dual citizenship be 'placed in concentration camps'." It was feared that this population might commit acts of espionage or sabotage for the Japanese military. Internment, however, was never limited to those who had been to Japan, but "included a smaller number of German and Italian enemy aliens suspected of disloyalty." By February, "Earl Warren, at the time Attorney General of California, and U.S. Webb, a former Attorney General, were vigorously seeking to persuade the federal government to remove all ethnic Japanese from the west coast."
Civilian and military officials had concerns about the loyalty of the ethnic Japanese on the West Coast and considered them to be potential security risks. Major Karl Bendetsen and Lieutenant General John L. DeWitt each questioned Japanese American loyalty. However, security concerns were also mingled with racial bias. DeWitt, who administered the internment program, repeatedly told newspapers that "A Jap's a Jap" and testified to Congress,
I don't want any of them [persons of Japanese ancestry] here. They are a dangerous element. There is no way to determine their loyalty…. It makes no difference whether he is an American citizen, he is still a Japanese. American citizenship does not necessarily determine loyalty…. But we must worry about the Japanese all the time until he is wiped off the map.
Those that were as little as 1/16th Japanese could be placed in internment camps. Orphaned infants with "one drop of Japanese blood" (as explained in a letter by one official) were included in the program.
Upon the bombing of Pearl Harbor and pursuant to the Alien Enemies Act, Presidential Proclamations 2525, 2526 and 2527 were issued designating Japanese, German and Italian nationals as enemy aliens. Information from the CDI was used to locate and incarcerate foreign nationals from Japan, Germany, and Italy.
Presidential Proclamation 2537 was issued on January 14, 1942, requiring aliens to report any change of address, employment or name to the FBI. Enemy aliens were not allowed to enter restricted areas. Violators of these regulations were subject to "arrest, detention and internment for the duration of the war."
Executive Order 9066, signed by Franklin D. Roosevelt on February 19, 1942, allowed authorized military commanders to designate "military areas" at their discretion, "from which any or all persons may be excluded." These "exclusion zones," unlike the "alien enemy" roundups, were applicable to anyone that an authorized military commander might choose, whether citizen or non-citizen.
These edicts included persons of part-Japanese ancestry as well. Chinese-Japanese Americans (i.e., those who had Chinese ancestry as well), Korean-Americans considered to have Japanese nationality (since Korea was occupied by Japan during WWII), Japanese-Hawaiians residing in the mainland, those with Japanese-Cherokee ancestry and Japanese Latin Americans (or "Japanese Latinos") from the West Coast of the United States during World War II were subject to restrictions under these programs. Anyone who was at least one-eighth Japanese, even if they had mostly Caucasian ancestry, was eligible.
While this event is most commonly called the internment of Japanese Americans, in fact there were several different types of camps involved. The best known facilities were the Assembly Centers run by the Wartime Civil Control Administration (WCCA), and the Relocation Centers run by the War Relocation Authority (WRA), which are generally (but unofficially) referred to as "internment camps." The Department of Justice (DOJ) operated camps officially called Internment Camps, which were used to detain those suspected of actual crimes or "enemy sympathies." German American internment and Italian American internment camps also existed, sometimes sharing facilities with the Japanese Americans. The WCCA and WRA facilities were the largest and the most public. The WCCA Assembly Centers were temporary facilities that were first set up in horse racing tracks, fairgrounds and other large public meeting places to assemble and organize internees before they were transported to WRA Relocation Centers by truck, bus or train. The WRA Relocation Centers were camps that housed persons removed from the exclusion zone after March 1942, or until they were able to relocate elsewhere in America outside the exclusion zone.
During World War II, over 7000 Japanese Americans and Japanese from Latin America were held in camps run by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, part of the Department of Justice.
In this period, Latin Americans of Japanese ancestry were rounded up and transported to American internment camps run by the U.S. Justice Department. These Latin American internees were eventually offered "parole" relocation to the labor-starved farming community in Seabrook, New Jersey. Many became naturalized American citizens or Japanese Americans after the war. For example, at war's end, only 79 Japanaese-Peruvian citizens returned to Peru; and 400 remained in the United States as "stateless" refugees.
There were twenty-seven U.S. Department of Justice Camps, eight of which (in Texas, Idaho, North Dakota, New Mexico, and Montana) held Japanese Americans. The camps were guarded by Border Patrol agents rather than military police and were intended for non-citizens including Buddhist ministers, Japanese language instructors, newspaper workers, and other community leaders.
In addition 2,210 persons of Japanese ancestry taken from 12 Latin American countries by the U.S. State and Justice Departments were held at the Department of Justice Camps. Approximately 1,800 were Japanese Peruvians. Some state that the United States intended to use them in hostage exchanges with Japan. There was a program to repatriate Americans (civilian and POW) and Japanese nationals, but this was ended after reports by international observers described the treatment given to internees.
After the war, 1400 were not allowed to return to their Latin American homes and more than 900 Japanese Peruvians were involuntarily deported to Japan. Three hundred fought deportation in the courts and were allowed to settle in the United States.
Initially, the Japanese brought into the United States from South America were to be deported because they had entered the country without passports or visas. Later Court of Appeals decisions overturned this absurd finding, pointing out that they had been brought into the country both against their will and following a process which was essentially a form of kidnapping at the behest of the United States.
Executive Order 9066 authorized the evacuation of all persons of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast; it was signed when there was no place for the Japanese Americans to go. When voluntary evacuation proved impractical, the military took over full responsibility for the evacuation; on April 9, 1942, the Wartime Civilian Control Agency (WCCA) was established by the military to coordinate the evacuation to inland relocation centers. However, the relocation centers were far from ready for large influxes of people. For some, there was still contention over the location, but for most, their placement in isolated undeveloped areas of the country exacerbated problems of building infrastructure and housing. Since the Japanese Americans living in the restricted zone were considered too dangerous to freely conduct their daily business, the military decided it was necessary to find temporary "assembly centers" to house the evacuees until the relocation centers were completed.
|Tule Lake||California||May 1942||18,789|
|Gila River||Arizona||July 1942||13,348|
|Heart Mountain||Wyoming||August 1942||10,767|
The War Relocation Authority (WRA) was the U.S. civilian agency responsible for the relocation and detention. The WRA was created by President Roosevelt on March 18, 1942 with Executive Order 9102 and officially ceased to exist June 30, 1946. Milton S. Eisenhower, then an official of the Department of Agriculture, was chosen to head the WRA. Within nine months, the WRA had opened ten facilities in seven states, and transferred over 100,000 people from the WCCA facilities.
The WRA camp at Tule Lake, though initially like the other camps, eventually became a detention center for people believed to pose a security risk. Tule Lake also served as a "segregation center" for individuals and families who were deemed "disloyal" and for those who were to be deported to Japan.
There were three types of camps. Civilian Assembly Centers were temporary camps, frequently located at horse tracks, where the Nikkei were sent as they were removed from their communities. Eventually, most were sent to Relocation Centers, also known as internment camps. Detention camps housed Nikkei considered to be disruptive or of special interest to the government.
These camps often held German and Italian detainees in addition to Japanese Americans:
The Citizen Isolation Centers were for those considered to be problem inmates.
Detainees convicted of crimes, usually draft resistance, were sent to these camps:
These camps often held German and Italian detainees in addition to Japanese Americans:
Somewhere between 110,000 and 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry were subject to this mass exclusion program, of whom approximately two-thirds were U.S. citizens. The remaining one-third were non-citizens subject to internment under the Alien Enemies Act; many of these "resident aliens" had long been inhabitants of the United States, but had been deprived the opportunity to attain citizenship by laws that blocked Asian-born nationals from ever achieving citizenship.
Internees of Japanese descent were first sent to one of 17 temporary "Civilian Assembly Centers," where most awaited transfer to more permanent relocation centers under construction by the newly-formed War Relocation Authority (WRA). Some of those who did report to the civilian assembly centers were not sent to relocation centers, but were released under the condition that they remain outside the prohibited zone until the military orders were modified or lifted. Almost 120,000 Japanese Americans and Japanese "resident aliens" were eventually removed from their homes in California, the western half of Oregon and Washington and southern Arizona as part of the single largest forced relocation in the History of the United States.
Most of these camps/residences, gardens, and stock areas were placed on Native American reservations, for which the Native Americans were formally compensated.
Under the National Student Council Relocation Program (supported primarily by the American Friends Service Committee), students of college age were permitted to leave the camps in order to attend institutions which were willing to accept students of Japanese ancestry. Although the program initially granted leave permits to only a very small number of students, this eventually grew to 2,263 students by December 31, 1943. War Relocation Authority annual reports.
The exclusion from Military Area No. 1 initially occurred through a voluntary relocation policy. Under the voluntary relocation policy, the Japanese Americans were free to go anywhere outside of the exclusion zone; however the arrangements and costs of relocation were borne by the individuals. The night-time curfew, initiated on March 27, 1942, was the first mass-action restricting the Japanese Americans.
According to a 1943 War Relocation Authority report, internees were housed in "tar paper-covered barracks of simple frame construction without plumbing or cooking facilities of any kind." The spartan facilities met international laws, but still left much to be desired. Many camps were built quickly by civilian contractors during the summer of 1942 based on designs for military barracks, making the buildings poorly equipped for cramped family living.
The Heart Mountain War Relocation Center in northwestern Wyoming was a barbed-wire-surrounded enclave with unpartitioned toilets, cots for beds, and a budget of 45 cents daily per capita for food rations. Because most internees were evacuated from their West Coast homes on short notice and not told of their assigned destinations, many failed to pack appropriate clothing for Wyoming winters which often reached temperatures below zero Fahrenheit.
Armed guards were posted at the camps, which were all in remote, desolate areas far from population centers. Internees were typically allowed to stay with their families, and were treated well unless they violated the rules. There are documented instances of guards shooting internees who reportedly attempted to walk outside the fences. One such shooting, that of James Wakasa at Topaz, led to a re-evaluation of the security measures in the camps. Some camp administrations eventually allowed relatively free movement outside the marked boundaries of the camps. Nearly a quarter of the internees left the camps to live and work elsewhere in the United States, outside the exclusion zone. Eventually, some were authorized to return to their hometowns in the exclusion zone under supervision of a sponsoring American family or agency whose loyalty had been assured.
The phrase shikata ga nai (loosely translated as "it cannot be helped") was commonly used to summarize the interned families' resignation to their helplessness throughout these conditions. This was even noticed by the children, as mentioned in Farewell to Manzanar. Although that may be the view to outsiders, the Japanese people tended to comply with the U.S. government to prove themselves loyal citizens. This perceived loyalty to the United States can be attributed to the collective mentality of Japanese culture, where citizens are more concerned with the overall good of the group as opposed to focusing on individual wants and needs.
Some Japanese Americans did question the American government, after finding themselves in internment camps. Several pro-Japan groups formed inside the camps, particularly at the Tule Lake location. When the government passed a law that made it possible for an internee to renounce her or his U.S. citizenship, 5,589 internees opted to do so; 5,461 of these were at Tule Lake. Of those who renounced their citizenship, 1,327 were repatriated to Japan. Many of these individuals would later face stigmatization in the Japanese American community, after the war, for having made that choice, although even at the time they were not certain what their futures held were they to remain American, and remain interned.
The American Civil Liberties Union successfully challenged most of these renunciations as invalid because of the conditions under which the government obtained them. These conditions were described as "coercion, duress, and mass compulsion" by Marvin Opler, a WRA official who had observed some of the renunciation hearings and supported the restoration of citizenship to the expatriated Japanese Americans.
As early as 1939, when war broke out in Europe and while armed conflict began to rage in East Asia, the FBI and branches of the Department of Justice and the armed forces began to collect information and surveillance on influential members of the Japanese community in the United States. This data was included in the Custodial Detention index ("CDI"). Agents in the Department of Justice's Special Defense Unit classified the subjects into three groups: A, B and C, with A being "most dangerous," and C being "possibly dangerous."
After the Pearl Harbor attacks, Roosevelt authorized his attorney general to put into motion a plan for the arrest of individuals on the potential enemy alien lists. Armed with a blanket arrest warrant, the FBI seized these men on the eve of December 8, 1941. These men were held in municipal jails and prisons until they were moved to Department of Justice detention camps, separate from those of the Wartime Relocation Authority (WRA). These camps operated under far more stringent conditions and were subject to heightened criminal-style guard, despite the absence of criminal proceedings.
Crystal City, Texas, was one such camp where Japanese Americans, German-Americans, Italian-Americans, and a large number of US-seized, Axis-descended nationals from several Latin-American countries were interned.
Canadian citizens with Japanese ancestry were also interned by the Canadian government during World War II (see Japanese Canadian internment). Japanese people from various parts of Latin America were brought to the United States for internment, or interned in their countries of residence.
Although there was a strong push from mainland Congressmen (Hawaii was only a U.S. territory at the time, and did not have a voting representative or senator in Congress) to remove and intern all Japanese Americans and Japanese immigrants in Hawaii, it never happened. Japanese Americans residing on the West Coast of the United States were all interned, whereas in Hawaii, where over 150,000 Japanese Americans composed nearly a third of that territory's population, an additional 1,200 to 1800 Japanese Americans were interned, Of those interned, 62 percent were United States citizens. either in two camps on Oahu or in one of the mainland internment camps.
The vast majority of Japanese Americans and their immigrant parents in Hawaii were not interned because the government had already declared martial law in Hawaii and this allowed it to significantly reduce the supposed risk of espionage and sabotage by residents of Japanese ancestry. Also, Japanese Americans comprised over 35 percent of the territory's population, with approximately 150,000 inhabitants; detaining so many people would have been enormously challenging in terms of logistics. Also, the whole of Hawaiian society was dependent on their productivity.
There were two internment camps in Hawaii, referred to as "Hawaiian Island Detention Camps." The Hawaiian camps primarily utilized tents and other temporary structures and few permanent structures. One camp was located at Sand Island, which is located in the middle of Honolulu Harbor. This camp was prepared in advance of the war's outbreak. All prisoners held here were "detained under military custody… because of the imposition of martial law throughout the Islands." The other Hawaiian camp was called Honouliuli, near Ewa, on the southwestern shore of Oahu. This camp is not as well-known as the Sand Island camp, and it was closed before the Sand Island camp in 1944.
In December 1944 (Ex parte Endo), the Supreme Court ruled the detainment of loyal citizens unconstitutional, though a decision handed down the same day (Korematsu v. United States) held that the exclusion process as a whole was constitutional.
On January 2, 1945, the exclusion order was rescinded entirely. The internees then began to leave the camps to rebuild their lives at home, although the relocation camps remained open for residents who were not ready to make the move back. The freed internees were given $25 and a train ticket to their former homes. While the majority returned to their former lives, some of the Japanese Americans emigrated to Japan. The fact that this occurred long before the Japanese surrender, while the war was arguably at its most vicious, weighs against the claim that the relocation was a security measure. However, it is also true that the Japanese were clearly losing the war by that time, and were not on the offensive. The last internment camp was not closed until 1946, Japanese taken by the U.S. from Peru that were still being held in the camp in Santa Fe took legal action in April 1946 in an attempt to avoid deportation to Japan.
One of the WRA camps, Manzanar, was designated a National Historic Site in 1992 to "provide for the protection and interpretation of historic, cultural, and natural resources associated with the relocation of Japanese Americans during World War II" (Public Law 102-248). In 2001, the site of the Minidoka War Relocation Center in Idaho was designated the Minidoka National Historic Site.
Many internees lost irreplaceable personal property due to the restrictions on what could be taken into the camps. These losses were compounded by theft and destruction of items placed in governmental storage. A number of persons died or suffered for lack of medical care, and several were killed by sentries; James Wakasa, for instance, was killed at Topaz War Relocation Center, near the perimeter wire. Nikkei were prohibited from leaving the Military Zones during the last few weeks before internment, and only able to leave the camps by permission of the camp administrators.
Psychological injury was observed by Dillon S. Myer, director of the WRA camps. In June 1945, Myer described how the Japanese Americans had grown increasingly depressed, and overcome with feelings of helplessness and personal insecurity.
Some Japanese American farmers were able to find families willing to tend their farms for the duration of their internment. In other cases, however, Japanese American farmers had to sell their property in a matter of days, usually at great financial loss. In these cases, the land speculators who bought the land made huge profits. California's Alien Land Laws of the 1910s, which prohibited most non-citizens from owning property in that state, contributed to Japanese American property losses. Because they were barred from owning land, many older Japanese American farmers were tenant farmers and therefore lost their rights to those farm lands.
To compensate former internees for their property losses, the US Congress, on July 2, 1948, passed the "American Japanese Claims Act," allowing Japanese Americans to apply for compensation for property losses which occurred as "a reasonable and natural consequence of the evacuation or exclusion." By the time the Act was passed, however, the IRS had already destroyed most of the 1939-1942 tax records of the internees, and, due to the time pressure and the strict limits on how much they could take to the assembly centers and then the internment camps, few of the internees themselves had been able to preserve detailed tax and financial records during the evacuation process. Thus, it was extremely difficult for claimants to establish that their claims were valid. Under the Act, Japanese American families filed 26,568 claims totaling $148 million in requests; approximately $37 million was approved and disbursed.
During World War II, Colorado governor Ralph Lawrence Carr was the only elected official to publicly apologize for the internment of American citizens. The act cost him reelection, but gained him the gratitude of the Japanese American community, such that a statue of him was erected in Sakura Square in Denver's Japantown.
Beginning in the 1960s, a younger generation of Japanese Americans who were inspired by the Civil Rights movement began what is known as the "Redress Movement," an effort to obtain an official apology and reparations from the federal government for interning their parents and grandparents during the war, focusing not on documented property losses but on the broader injustice of the internment. The movement's first success was in 1976, when Pres. Gerald Ford proclaimed that the evacuation was "wrong."
The campaign for redress was launched by Japanese Americans in 1978. The Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) asked for three measures to be taken as redress: $25,000 to be awarded to each person who was detained, an apology from the U.S. Congress acknowledging publicly that the U.S. government had been wrong, and the release of funds to set up an educational foundation for the children of Japanese American families.
In 1980, Congress established the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC) to study the matter. Some opponents of the redress movement argued that the commission was ideologically biased; 40 percent of the commission staff was of Japanese ancestry. On February 24, 1983, the commission issued a report entitled "Personal Justice Denied," condemning the internment as "unjust and motivated by racism rather than real military necessity". Members of the redress movement and their allies considered the report a necessary recognition of the great injustice of the internment program.
In 1988, U.S. President (and former California governor) Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which had been pushed through Congress by Representative Norman Mineta and Senator Alan K. Simpson—the two had met while Mineta was interned at a camp in Wyoming—which provided redress of $20,000 for each surviving detainee, totaling $1.2 billion dollars. The question of to whom reparations should be given, how much, and even whether monetary reparations were appropriate were subjects of sometimes contentious debate.
The legislation stated that government actions were based on "race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership". About $1.6 billion in reparations were later disbursed by the U.S. government to surviving internees and their heirs.
On September 27, 1992, the Civil Liberties Act Amendments of 1992, appropriating an additional $400 million in order to ensure that all remaining internees received their $20,000 redress payments, was signed into law by Pres. George H. W. Bush, who also issued another formal apology from the U.S. government.
Japanese and Japanese Americans who were relocated during World War II were compensated for direct property losses in 1948. Later on in 1988 following lobbying efforts by Japanese Americans, $20,000 per internee was paid out to individuals who had been interned or relocated, including those who chose to return to Japan. These payments were awarded to 82,210 Japanese Americans or their heirs at a cost of $1.6 billion; the program's final disbursement occurred in 1999.
Under the 2001 budget of the United States, it was also decreed that the ten sites on which the detainee camps were set up are to be preserved as historical landmarks: “places like Manzanar, Tule Lake, Heart Mountain, Topaz, Amache, Jerome, and Rohwer will forever stand as reminders that this nation failed in its most sacred duty to protect its citizens against prejudice, greed, and political expediency.”
Article I, Section 9 of the U.S. Constitution states "The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it." but the clause's location implies this authority is vested in Congress, rather than the President.
Pres. Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus during the Civil War. On February 19, 1942, Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt followed in his footsteps by signing Executive Order 9066, permitting exclusion of persons from wartime military zones.
Following the reluctance or inability of the vast majority of ethnic Japanese to establish new residences beyond the coastal regions of California, Oregon, and Washington, the U.S. government entered upon a mission of housing, feeding, and safeguarding in family groups as many as 122,000 ethnic Japanese residing in what became the Red War Zone. In point of fact, a significant number of Japanese living outside of the coastal areas requested and were granted the opportunity of joining others of their ethnic group in the relocation centers.
Former Supreme Court Justice Tom C. Clark, who represented the US Department of Justice in the "relocation," writes in the Epilogue to the 1992 book Executive Order 9066: The Internment of 110,000 Japanese Americans (written by Maisie and Richard Conrat):
The truth is—as this deplorable experience proves—that constitutions and laws are not sufficient of themselves...Despite the unequivocal language of the Constitution of the United States that the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, and despite the Fifth Amendment's command that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law, both of these constitutional safeguards were denied by military action under Executive Order 9066.
To this day, some believe that the legality of the internment has been firmly established as exactly the type of scenario spelled out, quite clearly, in the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798. Among other things, the Alien Enemies Act (which was one of four laws included in the Alien and Sedition Acts) allowed for the United States government, during time of war, to apprehend and detain indefinitely foreign nationals, first-generation citizens, or any others deemed a threat by the government. As no expiration date was set, and the law has never been overruled, it was still in effect during World War II, and still is to this day. Therefore, some continue to claim that the civil rights violations were, in fact, not violations at all, having been deemed acceptable as a national security measure during time of war by Congress, signed into law by Pres. John Adams, and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. However, the majority of the detainees were American-born, thus exempt under law from the Alien and Sedition Acts except if found to directly be a threat due to their actions or associations. This exemption was the basis for drafting Nisei to fight in Europe, as the Laws of Land Warfare prohibit signatory nations (including the United States) from compelling persons to act against their homelands or the allies of their homelands in time of war.
In 1944, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the exclusion orders, while noting that the provisions that singled out people of Japanese ancestry were a separate issue outside the scope of the proceedings.
Later, several significant legal decisions arose out of Japanese American internment, relating to the powers of the government to detain citizens in wartime. Among the cases which reached the U.S. Supreme Court were Yasui v. United States (1943), Hirabayashi v. United States (1943), ex parte Endo (1944), and Korematsu v. United States (1944). In Yasui and Hirabayashi the court upheld the constitutionality of curfews based on Japanese ancestry; in Korematsu the court upheld the constitutionality of the exclusion order. In Endo, the court accepted a petition for a writ of habeas corpus and ruled that the WRA had no authority to subject a citizen whose loyalty was acknowledged to its procedures.
Korematsu's and Hirabayashi's convictions were vacated in a series of coram nobis cases in the early 1980s. In the coram nobis cases, federal district and appellate courts ruled that newly uncovered evidence revealed the existence of a huge unfairness which, had it been known at the time, would likely have changed the Supreme Court's decisions in the Yasui, Hirabayashi, and Korematsu cases. These new court decisions rested on a series of documents recovered from the National Archives showing that the government had altered, suppressed and withheld important and relevant information from the Supreme Court, most notably, the Final Report by General DeWitt justifying the internment program. The Army had destroyed documents in an effort to hide the fact that alterations had been made to the report. The coram nobis cases vacated the convictions of Korematsu and Hirabayashi (Yasui died before his case was heard, rendering it moot), and are regarded as one of the impetuses for the Civil Liberties Act of 1988.
It is important to note that the rulings of the US Supreme Court in the 1944 Korematsu and Hirabayashi cases, specifically, its expansive interpretation of government powers in wartime, were not overturned. They are still the law of the land because a lower court cannot overturn a ruling by the US Supreme Court. However, the coram nobis cases totally undermined the factual underpinnings of the 1944 cases, leaving the original decisions without the proverbial legal leg to stand on. But in light of the fact that these 1944 decisions are still on the books, a number of legal scholars have expressed the opinion that the original Korematsu and Hirabayashi decisions have taken on an added relevance in the context of the War on terror.
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