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Long Road to Redress: Japanese Internment Camps

Sign marking the entrance to the Manzanar War Relocation Center, near Lone Pine, California; photograph by Ansel Adams, 1943.

Library of Congress, Washington D.C. (neg. no. LC-DIG-ppprs-00226 DLC)

Japanese internment camps were established during World War II by President Franklin Roosevelt through his Executive Order 9066. From 1942 to 1945, it was the policy of the U.S. government that people of Japanese descent would be interred in isolated camps. Executive Order 9066 affected the lives about 117,000 people—the majority of whom were American citizens. Comprehensive legislation apologizing for internment and compensating its victims had to wait for more than a generation after the war.

In 1945, four years after the federal government seized the banks, financial records, and assets of Japanese Americans, Congress voted to unfreeze their money and set aside as much as $10 million in refunds. But because the Office of Alien Property Custodian offered low exchange rates and erected additional hurdles, less than half of the 7,500 Japanese-American depositors redeemed their certificates. More than two decades passed before the U.S. Supreme Court in Honda v. Clark forced the custodian to meet all outstanding claims in full.

The last Japanese internment camp closed in March 1946. In 1947 the House Judiciary Committee admitted that no one sent to the camps had been guilty of sabotaging America, but the committee nevertheless justified internment as a “military necessity.” Hurdles remained as calculating the cost and verifying property-loss claims proved to be challenging because few records had been kept. President Gerald Ford officially repealed Executive Order 9066 in 1976, and in 1988 Congress issued a formal apology and passed the Civil Liberties Act awarding $20,000 each to over 80,000 Japanese Americans as reparations for their treatment.

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