Washington, DC…Seventy-nine years ago, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which stripped Japanese Americans of their civil rights and led to the wrongful internment of some 120,000 Americans of Japanese descent. In one of the most shameful periods in American history, Japanese Americans were targeted and imprisoned simply because of their heritage. Families were forced to abandon their homes, communities, and businesses to live for years in inhumane concentration camps throughout the United States. These actions by the Federal government were immoral and unconstitutional — yet they were upheld by the Supreme Court in one of the gravest miscarriages of justice in the Court’s history.
A Japanese American unfurled this banner in Oakland, California the day after the Pearl Harbor attack. This Dorothea Lange photograph was taken in March 1942, just prior to the man’s internment.
America failed to live up to our founding ideals of liberty and justice for all, and today we reaffirm the Federal government’s formal apology to Japanese Americans for the suffering inflicted by these policies. The internment of Japanese Americans also serves as a stark reminder of the tragic human consequences of systemic racism, xenophobia, and nativism. I reflect on the bravery of so many Japanese Americans who stood up against this hateful policy, including civil rights leaders like Fred Korematsu who fought against Japanese internment and were a symbol of hope. Their legacies remind us all that civil liberties must be vigorously defended and protected.