California State Legislature takes first, but not final step to address injustice
The California State Legislature issued a formal apology on Thursday for its role in the internment of Japanese residents and Americans of Japanese ancestry during World War II. Although this decision is long overdue, the Editorial Board commends the legislature’s important gesture and encourages the state to continue its efforts to redress injustices committed against marginalized groups — both past and present
House Resolution 77 lays out in detail the state’s compliance with President Franklin Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 — signed this month 78 years ago — and its involvement in the forced removal and incarceration of 120,000 persons of Japanese descent. It expressly mentions several past actions taken by the California State Legislature that directly violated the rights of Japanese immigrants and American citizens living in the state. These actions include prohibiting Japanese immigrants from leasing or owning land, and urging Congress to strip Japanese Americans of their citizenship and to redistribute the property of the incarcerated “for use by other Americans.”
By passing HR 77, the legislature “apologizes to all Americans of Japanese ancestry for its past actions in support of the unjust exclusion, removal, and incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, and for its failure to support and defend the civil rights and civil liberties of Japanese Americans during this period.” As made clear by its principal author, Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi (D-Torrance), the resolution is an indication of California’s willingness to “lead by example” and take responsibility for its lengthy history of racially motivated immigrant oppression.
It’s astounding that it took almost 80 years for California to officially apologize for its contribution to this shameful period of injustice. Nevertheless, HR 77 is a critical step in acknowledging the state’s obligation to repel racist, fear-based policies — especially if it wants to live up to its reputation as a place of tolerance and progress.
Clearly, the internment of Japanese Americans is neither the first nor the most recent instance of federal or state governments blatantly violating the rights of certain racial, ethnic or religious groups under the guise of national security or prioritizing native-born Americans. In 1994, California voters passed Proposition 187, an initiative that denied public and non-emergency health services to undocumented immigrants. While the courts blocked the initiative, Prop. 187 is a much more recent reminder that the state’s troubled immigrant rights track record has persisted even within the past three decades.
But even more recently, the country has been confronted by a tide of nativist sentiment and a number of anti-immigrant policies that somewhat resemble the part of history that HR 77 seeks to mend. In the wake of the bombings at Peal Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, it was U.S. Army General John L. DeWitt who erroneously and intentionally claimed that “the Japanese in this country have more [arms and ammunition] in their possession than our own armed forces.” Now, in 2020, the U.S. has a president who perpetuates and utilizes fear and racism to feed his political power. He oversees an administration that has issued a travel ban targeting Muslim immigrants, ordered the detainment of unauthorized immigrants at the southern border and placed a limit on the number of refugees allowed to enter the U.S.
Fortunately, the State of California and its local governments have acted decisively to counter the administration’s most egregious practices. The Board urges California lawmakers and leaders to apply past lessons in their fight for a better future for all those who call this country home. As HR 77 itself states: “Given recent national events, it is all the more important to learn from the mistakes of the past and to ensure that such an assault on freedom will never again happen to any community in the United States.”
Written by: The Editorial Board