The federal Civil Liberties Act of 1988 (Public Law 100-383) granted redress of $20,000 and a formal presidential apology to every surviving U.S. citizen or legal resident immigrant of Japanese ancestry incarcerated during World War II. First introduced in Congress as the Civil Liberties Act of 1987 (H.R. 442) and signed into law on August 10, 1988, by President Ronald Reagan, the act cited "racial prejudice, wartime hysteria and a lack of political leadership" as causes for the incarceration as a result of formal recommendations by the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC), a body appointed by Congress in 1980 to make findings on and suggest remedies for the incarceration.
In the years immediately following World War II, President Harry Truman signed the Japanese American Evacuation Claims Act of 1948 that allowed people of Japanese ancestry to file claims for damages to or loss of real and personal property as a result of the incarceration. Although this was an attempt to compensate for personal material losses, it proved to be ineffective due to its documented proof requirements, limited scope and lack of adequate appropriations.
After a period of relative inactivity, the rise of the civil rights movement and growing activism in the Japanese American community in the 1960s became catalysts for Edison Uno to lead the call at the 1970 Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) biennial convention for a resolution seeking individual reparations. By 1979 Senator Daniel Inouye with support from his fellow Japanese American Congressmen Spark Matsunaga, Norman Mineta, and Robert Matsui, called for a commission to study the wartime incarceration. The National JACL eventually voted in favor of the commission despite opposition from its Seattle chapter seeking a more timely and direct approach. The legislation forming the CWRIC was subsequently signed into law in 1980.
After hearings in 20 cities with testimonies from more than 750 witnesses, the CWRIC published their recommendations in 1983 as Personal Justice Denied, which provided factual and emotional support for monetary reparations. However, because President Ronald Reagan and majority Senate Republicans were seeking decreased governmental spending during recessionary times, the battle to implement the CWRIC's findings and provide monetary compensation was fought hard among Congressional committees and lobbyists. A combination of Japanese American legislators, a coalition of community groups like the JACL and National Coalition for Redress/Reparations (NCRR), and House Democratic leaders, helped secure the bill's passage with few amendments. Although President Reagan initially opposed the bill, he ultimately signed it after being lobbied heavily by New Jersey's Republican governor Thomas Kean.
According to the act, "Congress recognizes that. . . . a grave injustice was done to both citizens and permanent resident aliens of Japanese ancestry by the evacuation, relocation, and internment of civilians during World War II." It goes on to state that "these actions were carried out without adequate security reasons and without any acts of espionage or sabotage, and were motivated largely by racial prejudice, wartime hysteria, and a failure of political leadership." Specific reference was made to the physical and intangible damages suffered, including losses in education and job training that could never be fully compensated.
Specific provisions of the act, with amendments, included the acknowledgment of the fundamental injustice of the incarceration, a public apology to those who were displaced, provision for a public education fund so as to prevent future recurrence, and restitution to those who were incarcerated and to the Aleut residents of the Pribilof and Aleutian Islands.
Two governmental agencies were established to implement its provisions. The Office of Redress Administration (ORA) was set up to identify and administer reparations payments to eligible individuals within a ten-year period. The Civil Liberties Public Education Fund was authorized to "sponsor research and public educational activities, and to publish and distribute the hearings, findings, and recommendations of the Commission."
On October 9, 1990, a ceremony was held to present nine elderly Japanese Americans with the government's first redress checks of $20,000 each. Accompanying the check was a formal apology signed by President George Bush that stated: "In enacting a law calling for restitution and offering a sincere apology, your fellow Americans have. . . renewed their commitment to the ideals of freedom, equality and justice." However, it was not until 1991 to 1993 that payments to the remaining survivors took place. With eligibility matters at issue, the bill was amended in 1992 to extend benefits and increase funding by an additional $400 million to include several categories of previously unclear eligibility. A total of 82,219 received redress.
Authored by Sharon Yamato
The CLPEF Network. http://www.momomedia.com/CLPEF/. [The online community of people and projects sponsored by the Civil Liberties Public Education Fund (CLPEF).]
Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians. Personal Justice Denied: Report of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians. Seattle: University of Washington Press and Washington D.C.: Civil Liberties Public Education Fund, 1997.
Daniels, Roger. "Relocation, Redress, and the Report: A Historical Appraisal." In Japanese Americans: From Relocation to Redress, edited by Roger Daniels, Sandra C. Taylor, and Harry H.L. Kitano: 3–9. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1987. Revised edition. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1991.
Hatamiya, Leslie T. Righting a Wrong: Japanese Americans and the Passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1993.
Maki, Mitchell T., Harry H. L. Kitano, and S. Megan Berthold. Achieving the Impossible Dream: How Japanese Americans Obtained Redress. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1999.
Public Law 100-83. http://www.wwnorton.com/college/history/archive/resources/documents/ch30_06.htm.
Yamamoto, Eric K., et al. Race, Rights and Reparation: Law and the Japanese American Internment. New York: Aspen Publishers, 2001.
1. Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, Personal Justice Denied: Report of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (Seattle: University of Washington Press and Washington D.C.: Civil Liberties Public Education Fund, 1997), 461.
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