The California state Assembly has formally apologized for backing President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s executive order forcing thousands of Japanese Americans in prison camps during World War II.
The apology comes almost 78 years to the day after Roosevelt signed Executive Order No. 9066 on Feb. 19, 1942, authorizing the relocation of 120,000 people living primarily on the West Coast ― many of whom were American citizens ― over fears they would help Japan in the war.
Per a resolution passed Thursday, 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 resolution, HR-77, was introduced by state Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi (D), who told the Japanese American Citizens League that he wanted to “lead by example” with a bigger gesture than previous years’ efforts, which simply marked a day of remembrance.
Muratsuchi argued that this year’s resolution was all the more important in light of the Trump administration’s extreme efforts to limit immigration.
During World War II, entire Japanese American families were forced to abandon their homes to live in one of 10 camps where barebones structures were ringed by barbed wire and armed guards. Some people died in the dusty, isolated camps due to inadequate medical care, while several others were killed by guards.
The resolution details a number of civil rights abuses in the years surrounding the war, including in the cases of Fred Korematsu, Min Yasui and Gordon Hirabayashi ― three Japanese Americans who were punished for breaking the rules of exclusion. The men appealed to the Supreme Court, which upheld their convictions in Korematsu v. United States. As the resolution states, evidence that officials from the Department of War and the Department of Justice “altered, destroyed, and withheld information that testified to the loyalty” of Japanese Americans emerged around four decades later. (The convictions of the Korematsu plaintiffs were then overturned, and two years ago the Supreme Court described its 1944 decision as “gravely wrong.”)
Overall, the resolution states that the incarceration camps inflicted “a great human cost of abandoned homes, businesses, farms, careers, professional advancements, disruption to family life, and public humiliation” on those made to live and work there.
The federal government has made several other efforts to atone for this blemish on American history.
President Gerald Ford issued a formal apology of his own in 1976, saying the camps were a “setback to fundamental American principles.”
Four years later, Congress established the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, which concluded that the camps were not a “military necessity” but rather driven by “racial prejudice, wartime hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.”
In 1988, Congress approved reparation payments of $20,000 for each living survivor, which came with a signed apology from President Ronald Reagan on behalf of the country and the American people.