Japanese Latin Americans Seek Redress: U.S. Interned 2,200-Plus during WWII

By Nomura, Takehiko | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), September 27, 1996 | Go to article overview

Japanese Latin Americans Seek Redress: U.S. Interned 2,200-Plus during WWII


Nomura, Takehiko, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Their new life in Latin America screeched to a halt when the police rushed into their house and arrested them.

They were squeezed into warships at gunpoint, expelled to the United States and forced into a camp surrounded by barbed wire.

More than 2,200 of these Latin Americans of Japanese descent were shipped to the United States and put into a World War II internment camp by order of the Roosevelt administration. Their tragedy is a forgotten chapter of U.S. history.

Although the federal government started providing apologies and payments to Japanese-American internees under the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, most of the Japanese Latin Americans have been denied similar reparations.

In a class-action lawsuit against the U.S. government filed late last month in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, the Japanese Latin Americans are seeking formal apologies and reparations for what they charge was a violation of their human rights.

"We want to hold the government accountable for past wrongdoing, and also this action will prevent a government from violating human rights in the future," said Grace Shimizu, coordinator of the Japanese-Peruvian Oral History Project and a daughter of Japanese-Peruvians held in the wartime camps.

The group is supporting the lawsuit by forming the Campaign for Justice with other groups, including the National Coalition for Redress/Reparations, the Japanese American Citizens League and the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California.

Paul L. Mills, attorney for plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said: "The law [the Civil Liberties Act of 1988] itself states that one of its primary purposes is to make more credible and more believable the sincerity of U.S. criticism of human right abuses in other countries.

"However, the exclusion from redress for human right abuses on a basis that they were not U.S. citizens of my clients makes less credible that sincerity," Mr. Mills said.

"The effect of this lawsuit will be that the United States will include our clients in redress and that will enhance and strengthen United States credibility," the lawyer added.

A Justice Department official said the department does not comment on pending litigation.

But the official explained that the redress law restricted reparations to those who were U.S. citizens or naturalized citizens before 1952. The official added that 150 Japanese Latin Americans held in the camps were qualified and received the reparations.

"We came in the same boat to the United States and they put us into a camp, we went through the same thing," said Arthur Isamu Shibayama, 66, of San Jose, Calif., who was deported from Peru at age 13. "Yet some of us got it [an official apology and compensation] and some of us did not get it. That's not right."

Mr. Shibayama said he wants the U.S. government to recognize "the sufferings we went through."

"I want an apology," he said.

Despite his U.S. military service in Europe, he was denied U.S. citizenship until 1971.

The Justice Department, the official said, acknowledges that Japanese Latin Americans were abducted and expelled to the United States, but the official would not comment on the details. …

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