Phase 2 of the historic Japanese American campaign for redress is underway. The signing of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which many of you supported (thank you!), gave redress to Japanese Americans who were citizens and legal permanent residents when they were interned during World War II, but Japanese Latin Americans were excluded.
Now, after a major victory in the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), JLAs are calling upon everyone who supported Phase 1 of the redress campaign to call the Biden administration on Feb. 24 between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. ET to urge them to honor the rule of international law and give appropriate redress to Japanese Latin Americans.
In teaching about the Japanese American redress campaign for 38 years in my Asian American Studies classes, I have heard many students say that they wish that they had been around in the 1980s to participate in Phase 1 of the campaign.
This semester, I am happy to tell my students that they as individuals, student groups and members of local JACL chapters and other groups can now become active in Redress Phase 2.
Likewise, I have spoken at many Day of Remembrance activities over the decades to memorialize the Feb. 19, 1942, signing of President Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066.
Now, starting with the DOR in 2022, we can all get involved in Days of ACTION, as well as Days of Remembrance by contacting the JLA community and offering to help.
On the day after the Civil Liberties Act was passed in 1988, all of the supporters of that landmark bill should have seen 1988 as the end of Phase 1 of the Japanese American redress movement and started work on Phase 2: redress for the JLA members of the JA community.
Some participated in the Mochizuki lawsuit and other JLA redress efforts but, for a variety of reasons, most did not. However, thanks to the perseverance of the JLA community and their strong supporters, an international human rights tribunal has looked at the situation and decided that the United States owes redress to JLAs.
Without the need for a Congressional fact-finding commission or other Congressional actions, the Shibayama case provides a clear opportunity for the Biden administration to give JLAs the redress they were denied in 1988.
During WWII, Isamu Carlos “Art” Shibayama and his family, people of Japanese ancestry living in Peru, were kidnapped by and forcibly transported to the U.S. They had their passports taken away, were branded “illegal aliens” and were held in a U.S. internment camp in Texas, as hostages to be exchanged with Japan. On Sept. 9, 1946, they were released from detention but neither permitted repatriation to Peru nor granted legal immigration status in the U.S.
In order to be allowed to stay in the U.S., the Shibayamas and other JLAs were forced to work for minimal wages under severe conditions in Seabrook, N.J., after World War II. Compounding the indignities, some (but not all) JLAs, such as Art Shibayama, served in the U.S. military during the Korean War and STILL could not get U.S. citizenship. Only later in life was he able to become a citizen, start a small business and raise a family in California.
After being excluded from the 1988 Civil Liberties Act, the JLA internees pursued five lawsuits and two failed pieces of legislation in Congress before deciding in 2003 to file an international law case at the IACHR, part of the Organization of American States (an organization founded in 1948 to promote solidarity and co-operation between the countries of the Americas).
Fifteen years later, on Dec. 7, 2018, the IACHR approved Merit Report 154/18, which recommended in the Shibayama case that the U.S. government:
“Make integral reparation for the human rights violations established in this report, including both the material and moral dimensions, and adopt measures for economic compensation and measures of satisfaction. In this regard, the State should take into account the specific reparations requested by the petitioners as the parties come to an agreement about what constitutes integral reparation in this case.”
“Adopt the necessary measures to ensure full disclosure of government information relating to the program of deportation and internment of Japanese Latin Americans during World War II, as well as relating to the fates of the individuals subject to this program.” (IACHR Merit Report 26/20, page 16)
After two years of inaction by the Trump administration, the IACHR finally made public and published Merits Report No. 26/20 on April 22, 2020. It concluded that the U.S. was “responsible for the violation of the rights to equality before the law and an effective remedy established in articles II and XVIII of the American Declaration, to the detriment of Isamu Carlos, Kenichi Javier and Takeshi Jorge Shibayama.” Please refer to the OAS/IACHR website for more information ( http://www.oas.org/en/iachr/decisions/merits.asp).
It has now been 22 months since that historic IACHR decision, and the time has come for the U.S. to complete the redress process it started in 1988.
I as an individual and AALDEF as an organization plan to work with the Japanese Latin American community throughout the coming year to publicize the WWII-era human rights violations committed against them and galvanize the nationwide Asian American and Pacific Islander community, the Latinx community, the African American community, the human rights community and all people of good will to support JLA redress.
For more details about how you can get involved in Redress Phase 2, please refer to https://jlacampaignforjustice.org.
Professor Phil Tajitsu Nash is co-president of the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund and teaches Asian American Studies at the University of Maryland. He participated in Phase 1 of the redress movement as a lawyer at AALDEF, a board member of the New York JACL, a researcher at the National Archives with Jack and Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga, a lobbyist for the Washington Coalition on Redress and a reporter at the NY Nichibei and other community papers.