California is poised to formally apologize to all Americans of Japanese heritage for the state’s role in the incarceration of more than 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II.
On Thursday, the California Assembly is expected to approve a new bill, HR-77, which details civil rights abuses perpetrated against Japanese Americans in 1942 at the height of anti-Japanese hysteria.
“The Assembly apologizes to all Americans of Japanese ancestry for its past actions in support of the unjust exclusion, removal, and incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, and for its failure to support and defend the civil rights and civil liberties of Japanese Americans during this period,” the text of the bill reads.
The legislation was introduced by State Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi (D), who told the Japanese American Citizens League that he wanted his state to “lead by example” after proposing resolutions in previous years that only commemorated a “Day of Remembrance.” Six other co-sponsors signed on to the bill.
“While our nation’s capital is hopelessly divided along party lines and President Trump is putting immigrant families and children in cages, the California Legislature, with HR 77 will be issuing an official, bipartisan measure for its own actions taken that led to the incarceration of over 120,000 loyal Americans of Japanese ancestry behind barbed wire,” Maratsuchi told the JACL’s national newspaper, the Pacific Citizen.
Feb. 19 has held significance for Japanese Americans for decades because it was on that date in 1942 that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed an executive order that forcibly removed 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry living on the West Coast and placed them in prison camps around the United States. Two of those camps were in California: Manzanar and Tule Lake.
The JACL notes that Americans of Japanese heritage were never “charged, much less convicted, of espionage or sabotage against the United States. Yet they were targeted, rounded up, and imprisoned for years, simply for having the ‘face of the enemy.’”
Feb. 19 is now observed as Day of Remembrance in Japanese American communities.
“Every February, the Japanese American community commemorates Executive Order 9066 as a reminder of the impact the incarceration experience has had on our families, our community, and our country,” the JACL writes on its website. “It is an opportunity to educate others on the fragility of civil liberties in times of crisis, and the importance of remaining vigilant in protecting the rights and freedoms of all.”
The California bill specifically points to ongoing efforts by the Trump administration to limit immigration into the United States and contends that its passage would help to ensure that the mistakes of World War II are not made again.
“Given recent national events, it is all the more important to learn from the mistakes of the past and to ensure that such an assault on freedom will never again happen to any community in the United States,” the legislation reads.
The U.S. government has taken measures to apologize for the incarceration of Japanese Americans.
A congressional commission found in 1983 that the policies enacted against Japanese Americans during World War II were grounded in “racial prejudice, war hysteria and failure of political leadership.”
In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed a measure that provided $20,000 in restitution for every survivor of the wartime policies.
HR-77 does not include any compensation for Japanese Americans still alive today who were incarcerated.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) has also taken several actions to apologize for past injustices in the state’s history.
Last year, Newsom issued an executive order formally apologizing to Native Americans for “violence, maltreatment and neglect.” Earlier this month, Newsom announced a clemency initiative to pardon LGBTQ people including civil rights leader Bayard Rustin who were convicted under discriminatory laws.