Excerpts from remarks by Rep. Norman Y. Mineta (D-Calif.) during House debate yesterday on legislation, approved 243 to 141, to provide a national apology and reparations to thousands of Japanese Americans who were forced into relocation camps during World War II:
Beginning in 1942, the federal government ordered and sent 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry to isolated camps scattered throughout the western United States, and those who were interned and evacuated had but days, sometimes only hours, to dispose of their property and set their affairs in order, and then, carrying only what their arms could hold, these Americans were summarily shipped off to parts unknown for up to three years . . . .
One night in early 1942, when we did not know what events were to come, my father called our family together . . . . He said he did not know what the war would bring to my mother and to him since they were resident aliens, my dad having come in 1902 and my mother in 1912, but with the Oriental Exclusion Law of 1924 they were not able to become citizens because they were prohibited by that racial exclusion law from becoming United States citizens. However, he was confident that his beloved country would guarantee and protect the rights of his children, American citizens all. But his confidence, as it turned out, was misplaced . . . .
So on May 29, 1942, my father loaded his family upon that train under armed guard which was taking us from our home in San Jose to an unknown distant barracks. He was later to write to friends in San Jose, and he wrote in that letter about his experience and his feelings as our train pulled out of the station. I quote from the letter:
"I looked at Santa Clara's streets from the train over the subway. I thought this might be the last look at my loved home city. My heart almost broke, and suddenly hot tears came pouring out, and the whole family cried out, could not stop, until we were out of our loved county."
We lost our homes, we lost our businesses, we lost our farms, but worst of all, we lost our most basic human rights. Our own government had branded us with the unwarranted stigma of disloyalty which clings to us still to this day.
So the burden has fallen upon us to right the wrongs of 45 years ago. Great nations demonstrate their greatness by admitting and redressing the wrongs that they commit, and it has been left to this Congress to act accordingly.
Injustice does not dim with time. We cannot wait it out. We cannot ignore it, and we cannot shrug our shoulders at our past. If we do not refute the shame of the indictment here and now, the specter of this tragedy will resurface just as surely as I am standing here before you, and the injustice will recur.
This bill is certainly about the specific injury suffered by a small group of Americans, but the bill's impact reaches much deeper into the very soul of our democracy. Those of us who support this bill want not just to close the books on the sad events of 1942; we want to make sure that such blatant constitutional violations never occur again.