The removal of more than 112,000 Japanese immigrants and their children, most of whom were U.S. citizens, to detention camps as a result of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066.
In 1790 the Nationality Act
Japanese Americans in San Pedro, California, board a train to a relocation center in Manzanar in 1942. The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of their relocation.
After the Civil War, the Fourteenth Amendment
In 1898 the Supreme Court ruled in the United States v. Wong Kim Ark
Internee resting in a typical barracks room at the government's Manzanar camp in California's eastern Sierras.
Also in 1922, Congress passed the Cable Act.
After the first Japanese arrived in Hawaii in 1868, many workers immigrated to the island. Immigration to the U.S. mainland, however, largely remained limited to wealthier, more highly educated Japanese. After Hawaii became an American possession in 1898, the number of laborers who reached the mainland increased significantly. In 1899, 2,844 Japanese arrived on the mainland, but two years later, in 1900, 12,635 Japanese entered the continental United States. Many white Americans viewed the influx of Japanese and Chinese immigrants as an economic and cultural threat, and racial tensions grew, especially on the West Coast where most Asian immigrants had settled. Pressure from the western states forced the federal government to restrict Japanese immigration by means such as the Gentlemen’s Agreement
The Gentlemen’s Agreement prohibited immigration by Japanese men; however, it permitted the wives of immigrants already in the country to enter. Ironi- cally, the agreement actually increased immigration because immigrant men believed that they must immediately send for their wives in Japan or risk permanent separation. Many single men hurriedly sent pictures of themselves to Japan to find wives or asked relatives and friends to send pictures of prospective brides willing to come to the United States. Thus, many Japanese women, while still in Japan, married Japanese men living in the United States without ever seeing more than a photo; these “picture brides” crossed the ocean by themselves with visas sent by their husbands in the United States. To stem this great influx, Congress passed the Immigration Exclusion Act of 1924, virtually barring any further Japanese immigration.
In February, 1942, just one week after DeWitt submitted the final recommendation for relocation, President Franklin D. Roosevelt
Japanese Americans soon questioned the legality of the executive order and other government policies. Some objected to the loss of property on the grounds of due process; some questioned the right of the government to restrict the liberty and movement of U.S. citizens; and others disputed the moral authority of the government to force men in detention centers to join the military. Most of these challenges were eventually heard by the Supreme Court, though the Court itself avoided acting on the constitutionality of exclusion and actual detention until near the war’s end.
Min (Minoru) Yasui, a Japanese American lawyer and U.S. citizen, doubted the legality of the curfews for Japanese Americans that were imposed soon after the start of the war. He deliberately violated a curfew in Portland in 1942 to force the courts to hear this issue. After he was arrested, his U.S. citizenship was taken away because he had studied in a Japanese language school and had worked for the Japanese consulate. Though a lower court found the curfew unconstitutional, the Supreme Court in Yasui v. the United States
In October, 1944, in Korematsu v. United States,
In July, 1942, attorney James Purcell filed a writ of habeas corpus with the federal court in San Francisco on behalf of Mitsuye Endo, an American-born civil service employee. Although the cases of Yasui, Hirabayashi, and Korematsu challenged the curfews and exclusion orders, Endo’s case challenged the legality of the detention camps themselves. At first, lower courts found against Endo. However, after a two-year struggle, in December, 1944, in Ex parte Endo,
In spite of the federal government’s discriminatory treatment of Japanese Americans, the Court’s decisions showed progress toward protecting this group’s rights. For example, Fred Oyama, a U.S. citizen of Japanese descent became the titleholder of land in California that his immigrant parents were prohibited from owning because of the California Alien Land Act of 1913.
These various wartime Supreme Court decisions were instrumental in establishing equal rights for Japanese Americans. By the early 1950’s most state and local alien land acts and other discriminatory ordinances against Japanese had been repealed. However, these decisions also represent a substantial cost to all Americans’ constitutional liberties. As was evident in the Yasui, Hirabayashi, and Korematsu decisions, the guarantees of due process in the Constitution are not unambiguous. If the government can claim military necessity, the Court may uphold the restriction of individual liberties.
One-third of the people interned by the War Relocation Authority were not American citizens. This lack of citizenship does not necessarily indicate a lack of allegiance to or intent to remain in the United States, however, because Japan-born immigrants were not eligible to naturalize regardless of their wishes. Although Chinese immigrants were allowed to naturalize in 1943, and Indians and Filipinos in 1946, Japanese were not permitted to gain citizenship until the McCarran-Walter Act
In the late 1960’s, Japanese American groups in San Francisco, Southern California, and Seattle began to agitate for compensation for the detention and subsequent losses suffered during World War II. After much legal paperwork and protest, in 1988 Japanese Americans were recognized as being guilty of nothing but being of the wrong ancestry at the wrong time: Abe Fortas, who had overseen the War Relocation Authority while undersecretary of the interior, called the evacuation “a tragic error.” By 1993 some sixty thousand surviving Japanese American former detainees received compensation in the amount of twenty thousand dollars per person.
Perhaps the best place to begin the study of the legal aspects of the Japanese American incarceration is Wendy L. Ng’s Japanese American Internment During World War II: A History and Reference Guide (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2002), a comprehensive reference source on the internment years. Another good source to begin with is Angelo N. Ancheta’s Race, Rights, and The Asian American Experience (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1998). Ancheta, a civil rights attorney, covers legal issues historically, looking at both Japanese Americans and other Asian Americans in the United States. Masako Herman’s The Japanese in America, 1843-1973 (New York: Oceania Publications, 1974) is highly recommended for its chronology of Japanese American lawsuits and documentation on the various laws, acts, and orders. Democracy on Trial: The Japanese American Evacuation and Relocation in World War II (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995) by Page Smith helps link military, political, economic, racial, and personal motivations of the relocation. Peter Iron’s Justice at War: The Inside Story of the Japanese-American Internment (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993) presents the best narrative of the cases at trial and before the Supreme Court, with evidence that the government concealed evidence. Advanced students may consult Justice Delayed: The Record of the Japanese American Internment Case (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 1989. Jerry Kang explores the complex legal issues of the internment decisions in Race, Rights, and Reparations: Law and the Japanese American Internment (New York: Aspen, 2001). Susan Dudley Gold, Korematsu v. United States: Japanese American Internment (New York: Benchmark Books, 2005) is written specifically for younger readers.
Alien rights and naturalization
Chinese Exclusion Cases
Korematsu v. United States
Race and discrimination
Wartime seizure power
Wong Kim Ark, United States v.
World War II