67 Years Ago Today: FDR Imprisons Japanese Americans

Sixty-seven years ago today, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, allowing the military to circumvent the constitutional safeguards of American citizens in the name of national defense.

The order set into motion the exclusion from certain areas, and the evacuation and mass incarceration of 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry living on the West Coast, most of whom were U.S. citizens or legal permanent resident aliens. These Japanese Americans, half of whom were children, were incarcerated for up to 4 years, without due process of law or any factual basis, in bleak, remote camps surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards.

They were forced to evacuate their homes and leave their jobs; in some cases family members were separated and put into different camps. President Roosevelt himself called the 10 facilities “concentration camps.”

A 22-year-old welder in Oakland, Calif., named Fred Korematsu defied military orders to enter these concentration camps and was convicted for his resistance.

Fred took his challenge to the military orders to the United States Supreme Court, which, in 1944, upheld his conviction on the ground that the removal of Japanese Americans was justified by “military necessity.” That decision has been widely condemned as one of the darkest chapters in American legal history.

Forty years later, a team of young attorneys helped Fred file suit — the Korematsu coram nobis effort — to reopen his case on proof that the government, when arguing Korematsu’s case during World War II, had suppressed, altered, and destroyed material evidence that contradicted the government’s claim of military necessity.

That team included Dale Minami, Don Tamaki, Lorraine Bannai, Dennis Hayashi, Karen Kai, Robert Rusky, Ed Chen, Leigh-Ann Miyasato, Peter Irons, Eric Yamamoto, Akira Togasaki and a new organization — the Asian Law Caucus.

In 1984, Judge Marilyn Hall Patel of the Federal District Court for the Northern District of California granted his petition and vacated his conviction.

We re-tell this story around this time every year because our country cannot repeat the tragedy of ignoring American civil rights and liberties by using national security as an excuse.

Join us at the 2009 “Bay Area Day of Remembrance” on Sunday, February 22, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Sundance Kabuki Theater, 1881 Post St. (between Fillmore and Webster), with a reception at the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California, 1840 Sutter St. The program will include speakers, performances, candle lighting ceremony and an interfaith procession. The event is sponsored by the Bay Area DOR Consortium and funded in part by the San Francisco Japantown Foundation. Ticketed event and free reception. Contact 415-921-5007. Learn more at http://dayofremembrance.org.

And on April 30, join the Asian Law Caucus at our annual dinner to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Korematsu coram nobis decision. Learn more here http://hapihour.org/alc.

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