ACLU History: A Dark Moment in History: Japanese Internment Camps

With World War II, the tide of national xenophobia would once again turn against immigrants. In what is today universally acknowledged as a shameful act, the government forcibly took more than 120,000 people of Japanese descent from their homes and held them in internment camps. Two-thirds of the internees were U.S. citizens by birth. The Northern California affiliate of the ACLU courageously led the ACLU's fight on behalf of the Japanese-Americans and handled the two principal cases before the Supreme Court, Hirabayashi v. United States (1943) and Korematsu v. United States (1944). Although the ACLU lost both those cases, the cause was just. But it wasn't until 1990 that redress payments of $20,000 along with letters of apology signed by the first President George Bush were presented to approximately 60,000 survivors of the internment.

Then, as now, the denial of due process – that is, of legal proceedings carried out regularly and in accordance with established rules and principles – was the central civil rights violation. And the justification, then as now, was that security trumped liberty in times of national crisis.


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