California May Finally Apologize For Japanese Internment Camps

Japanese Americans wait for their housing assignments at Manzanar. (AP)

This week, state lawmakers are expected to formally apologize for one of California's many dark chapters: the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.

A resolution introduced by Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi (D-Torrance) singles out California's "failure to support and defend the civil rights" of Japanese Americans during that period.

More than 120,000 people of Japanese descent were forced from their homes and jobs and into camps across the West and Arkansas just two months after the attack on Pearl Harbor. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the executive order implementing these internments on Feb. 19, 1942, a date which is now observed as the Day of Remembrance.

Muratsuchi told KPCC he wrote HR-77 partly as a response to the Trump administration's immigration policies, including the Muslim travel ban and the detention of Latino migrants.

"We're seeing striking parallels between what happened to Japanese Americans before and during World War II and what we see happening today," he said.

Japanese Americans interned at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia behind barbed wire fence wave to departing friends on train, ca 1945. (Julian F. Fowlkes/Library of Congress)

The federal government apologized for the forced removal of Japanese Americans and granted financial redress to survivors with the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, and the Supreme Court in 2018 overruled an infamous decision that legally upheld internment.

But for some, an apology directly from the Golden State — which was home to nearly three-quarters of the entire Japanese American population by 1940 — is long overdue.

"California was at the forefront for pushing for some of the policies that led up to internment," said David Inoue, executive director of the Japanese American Citizens League. "And many people within the state of California advocated for them."

That includes the Alien Land laws and other policies designed to discourage immigrants, particularly those from Asia, from settling in California.

If the resolution passes, it would not be the first apology from Sacramento to atone for sins of the past. Last year, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an executive order apologizing for California's role in the history of violence against Native Americans and called for an official reconciliation commission.

Muratsuchi said acknowledging the mistakes of the past is necessary for the state to move forward.

"I introduced HR-77 for California to lead by example," he said, "and to show that we can learn the lessons of history — so that history doesn't repeat itself."

State lawmakers are expected to vote on the resolution Thursday.

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