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|Enacted by||the 100th United States Congress|
|Public law||Pub.L. 100–383|
|Statutes at Large||102 Stat. 904|
The Civil Liberties Act of 1988 (Pub.L. 100–383, title I, August 10, 1988, 102 Stat. 904, 50a U.S.C. § 1989b et seq.) is a United States federal law that granted reparations to Japanese Americans who had been interned by the United States government during World War II. The act was sponsored by California's Democratic Congressman Norman Mineta, an internee as a child, and Wyoming's Republican Senator Alan K. Simpson, who first met Mineta while visiting an internment camp. The third co-sponsor was California Senator Pete Wilson. The bill was supported by the majority of Democrats in Congress, while the majority of Republicans voted against it. The act was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan.
The act granted each surviving internee about US$20,000 in compensation (or, $40,000 after inflation-adjustment in 2016 dollars), with payments beginning in 1990. The legislation stated that government actions were based on "race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership" as opposed to legitimate security reasons. A total of 82,219 received redress checks.
Because the law was restricted to American citizens, or legal permanent residents, the ethnic Japanese that had been taken from their homes in Latin America (mostly from Peru), were not covered in the reparations, and regardless of whether they remained in the United States, returned to Latin America, or were deported to Japan after the war. In 1996, Carmen Mochizuki filed a class-action lawsuit, and won a settlement of around $5,000 per person to those eligible from what was left of the funds from the CLA. One hundred forty-five of those affected were able to receive the $5,000 settlement before the funds ran out. In 1999, funds were approved for the attorney general to pay out to the rest of the claimants.
Japanese American internment was the forced removal and confinement of approximately 120,000 Japanese Americans (62% of whom were United States citizens) from the West Coast of the United States during World War II. Some 5,500 Japanese American men arrested by the FBI after the bombing of Pearl Harbor were sent directly to internment camps run by the Department of Justice, and approximately 5,000 were able to "voluntarily" relocate to other parts of the country before forced evacuations began. The remainder — roughly 110,000 men, women and children — were sent to "relocation centers," hastily constructed camps in remote portions of the nation's interior, run by the War Relocation Authority.
President Franklin Roosevelt authorized the internment with Executive Order 9066, which allowed local military commanders to designate "military areas" from which "any or all persons may be excluded." This power was used to declare that all people of Japanese ancestry were excluded from the entire Pacific coast region, including all of California and most of Oregon and Washington, except for those in government custody. In 1944, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the exclusion, removal, and detention, arguing that it is permissible to curtail the civil rights of a racial group when there is a "pressing public necessity."
Some compensation for property losses was paid in 1948, but most internees were unable to fully recover their losses. In the 1960s and 1970s, a renewed movement formed within the Japanese American community to obtain redress for the wartime incarceration. The Japanese American Citizens League introduced a resolution to seek individual reparations at its 1970 conference and soon after began working with community activists and political leaders to lobby for legislative action. In 1979, the National Council for Japanese American Redress filed a class action lawsuit against the federal government on behalf of former camp inmates, and in 1980, after a push from Senator Daniel Inouye and Congressmen Robert Matsui, Spark Matsunaga and Norman Mineta, Congress appointed a committee to study the effects of the incarceration and the potential for redress. The Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians held investigative hearings in eleven U.S. cities, at which over 750 individuals gave testimony of their experiences during and after the war. In 1983, the Commission published its findings in the report Personal Justice Denied, writing that the displacement of Japanese Americans during the war had been the result of "race prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership" and recommending monetary reparations be made to former internees. Although the bill to issue a formal apology and implement the CWRIC's recommendations, introduced in 1987, faced heavy resistance from President Reagan and Senate Republicans opposed to increased federal spending, it was signed into law on August 10, 1988.
On October 9, 1990, a ceremony was held to present the first reparations checks. Nine elderly Issei received $20,000 each and a formal apology signed by President George H. W. Bush. United States Attorney General Dick Thornburgh presented the checks to the attendees, dropping to his knees to reach those in wheelchairs.
Payments to surviving internees or their heirs continued until 1993, overseen by the Office of Redress Administration, one of two government agencies created to carry out the 1988 act's implementation. The other, the Civil Liberties Public Education Fund, was established in order to meet the redress bill's provision to educate the public about the incarceration. $50 million was authorized "to sponsor research and public educational activities" in 1988, but anti-spending lobbying put the education program on hold until 1994 and reduced the final amount to $5 million. President Bill Clinton appointed an advisory board in 1996, and the CLPEF was used to fund various educational programs and grants from 1997 to 1998.
The Civil Liberties Act of 1988, Restitution for World War II internment of Japanese-Americans and Aleuts, states that it is intended to:
While the majority of Democrats in Congress voted for the bill, the majority of Republicans voted against it. On September 17, 1987, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the bill by a vote of 243 to 141, with 38 members not voting. The majority of Democrats in the House voted for the bill (180 in favor vs. 43 opposed) while a majority of Republicans voted against it (63 in favor vs. 98 opposed). On April 20, 1988, the U.S. Senate passed the bill by a vote of 69 to 27, with 4 members not voting. A large majority of Democrats voted for the bill (44 in favor vs. 7 opposed), while a more narrow majority of Senate Republicans also voted for the bill (25 in favor vs. 20 opposed).