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Japanese American internment


WRA Relocation Camps

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.

List of camps

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.17

Civilian Assembly Centers

  • Arcadia, California (Santa Anita Racetrack, stables)
  • Fresno, California (Big Fresno Fairgrounds, racetrack, stables)
  • Marysville / Arboga, California (migrant workers' camp)
  • Mayer, Arizona (Civilian Conservation Corps camp)
  • Merced, California (county fairgrounds)
  • Owens Valley, California
  • Parker Dam, Arizona
  • Pinedale, California (Pinedale Assembly Center, warehouses)
  • Pomona, California (Los Angeles County Fairgrounds, racetrack, stables)
  • Portland, Oregon (Pacific International Livestock Exposition, including 3,800 housed in the main pavilion building)
  • Puyallup, Washington (fairgrounds racetrack stables, Informally known as "Camp Harmony")
  • Sacramento / Walerga, California (migrant workers' camp)
  • Salinas, California (fairgrounds, racetrack, stables)
  • San Bruno, California (Tanforan racetrack, stables)
  • Stockton, California (San Joaquin County Fairgrounds, racetrack, stables)
  • Tulare, California (fairgrounds, racetrack, stables)
  • Turlock, California (Stanislaus County Fairgrounds)
  • Woodland, California

List of internment camps

  • Gila River War Relocation Center, Arizona
  • Granada War Relocation Center, Colorado (AKA "Amache")
  • Heart Mountain War Relocation Center, Wyoming
  • Jerome War Relocation Center, Arkansas
  • Manzanar War Relocation Center, California
  • Minidoka War Relocation Center, Idaho
  • Poston War Relocation Center, Arizona
  • Rohwer War Relocation Center, Arkansas
  • Topaz War Relocation Center, Utah
  • Tule Lake War Relocation Center California

Justice Department detention camps

These camps often held German and Italian detainees in addition to Japanese Americans:17

  • Crystal City, Texas
  • Fort Lincoln, North Dakota
  • Fort Missoula, Montana
  • Fort Stanton, New Mexico
  • Kenedy, Texas
  • Kooskia, Idaho
  • Santa Fe, New Mexico
  • Seagoville, Texas

Citizen Isolation Centers

The Citizen Isolation Centers were for those considered to be problem inmates.17

  • Leupp, Arizona
  • Moab, Utah (AKA Dalton Wells)
  • Old Raton Ranch/Fort Stanton, New Mexico

Federal Bureau of Prisons

Detainees convicted of crimes, usually draft resistance, were sent to these camps:17

  • Catalina, Arizona
  • Fort Leavenworth, Kansas
  • McNeill Island, Washington

US Army facilities

These camps often held German and Italian detainees in addition to Japanese Americans:17

  • Angel Island, California/Fort McDowell
  • Camp Blanding, Florida
  • Camp Forrest
  • Camp Livingston, Louisiana
  • Camp Lordsburg, New Mexico
  • Camp McCoy, Wisconsin
  • Florence, Arizona
  • Fort Bliss
  • Fort Howard
  • Fort Lewis
  • Fort Meade, Maryland
  • Fort Richardson
  • Fort Sam Houston
  • Fort Sill, Oklahoma
  • Griffith Park
  • Honolulu, Hawaii
  • Sand Island, Hawaii
  • Stringtown, Oklahoma
Did you know?During World War II between 110,000 and 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry were subject to exclusion, removal, and detention, of whom approximately two-thirds were U.S. citizens and the rest "resident aliens."

Exclusion, removal, and detention

Baggage of Japanese Americans evacuated from certain West coast areas under United States Army war emergency order, who have arrived at a reception center at a racetrack.

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.18 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.

This U.S. soldier of Japanese descent and American citizenship waits at a train station in Florin, California. He, along with nine other servicemen, was granted a furlough from their service to return to the U.S. to assist with their families' relocation and internment. April 10, 1942

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.

Los Angeles, California. Japanese Americans going to Manzanar gather around a baggage car at the old Santa Fe Station. (April 1942)19

Curfew and exclusion

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.

Conditions in the camps

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.

A baseball game at Manzanar. Picture by Ansel Adams circa 1943.

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.20 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.21

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.

Loyalty questions and segregation

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.22 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.22 Of those who renounced their citizenship, 1,327 were repatriated to Japan.22 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.22

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.

Other detention camps

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 1,20023 to 1800 Japanese Americans were interned, Of those interned, 62 percent were United States citizens.2425 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.

Internment ends

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.26 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 1946,27 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.28

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.

Hardship and material loss

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.29

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.30

Reparations and redress

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.31

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".32 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".33 About $1.6 billion in reparations were later disbursed by the U.S. government to surviving internees and their heirs.34

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 1999.34

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.”35

Civil rights violations

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 Conrat36):

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 9066.37

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.

Legal legacy

In 1944, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the exclusion orders,38 while noting that the provisions that singled out people of Japanese ancestry were a separate issue outside the scope of the proceedings.39

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.40 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.938 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.40 The Army had destroyed documents in an effort to hide the fact that alterations had been made to the report.9 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 1988.40

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.40 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.


  1. ↑ John J. Culley, "World War II and a Western Town: The Internment of Japanese Railroad Workers of Clovis, New Mexico," Western Historical Quarterly January 13, 1982: 43-61.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 Andrew E. Taslitz, STORIES OF FOURTH AMENDMENT DISRESPECT: FROM ELIAN TO THE INTERNMENT, 70 Fordham L. Rev. 2257, 2306-07 (2002).
  3. ↑ Fred Mullen, "DeWitt Attitude on Japs Upsets Plans," Watsonville Register-Pajaronian, April 16, 1943. 1, reproduced by Santa Cruz Public Library, Retrieved February 20, 2009.
  4. ↑ Testimony of John L. DeWitt, 13 April 1943, House Naval Affairs Subcommittee to Investigate Congested Areas, Part 3, pp. 739-40 (78th Cong ., 1st Sess.), cited in Korematsu v. United States, footnote 2, reproduced at findlaw.com, Retrieved February 20, 2009.
  5. ↑ Lily Havey, Short History of Amache Japanese Internment. colorado.gov. Retrieved February 20, 2009.
  6. ↑ Michelle Malkin, In Defense of Internment: The World War II Round-Up and What It Means For America's War on Terror (Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, 2004, ISBN 0895260514), 56.
  7. WWII Enemy Alien Control Overview from archives.gov. Retrieved February 20, 2009.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 Korematsu v. United S