Civil Liberties Act of 1988

reagan signing (1 of 1)

In 1970, the Japanese American Citizens League at its National Convention adopted a resolution to seek redress for the loss of liberties and property of those impacted by the exclusion and internment orders. Thus began a 20-year battle for redress.

JACL and the Japanese American legislators, Senators Daniel K. Inouye and Spark M. Matsunaga and Representatives Norman Y. Mineta and Robert Matsui, were successful in obtaining Congressional approval for the creation of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians in 1980. After extensive research and hearings around the country, the Commission found that military necessity did not warrant the exclusion and detention of Japanese Americans. It concluded that the “broad historical causes which shaped these decisions were race prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership.” As a result, “a grave injustice was done to American citizens and resident aliens of Japanese ancestry who, without individual review or any probative evidence against them, were excluded, removed and detained by the United States during World War II.” The Commission recommended monetary compensation of $20,000.00 per internee as a symbolic payment to redress the government’s actions.

The House of Representatives passed the Act on the 200th Anniversary of the signing of the Constitution. The House bill was numbered HR 442, in honor of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, a segregated Japanese American unit that fought in Europe during World War II. The Senate Bill, SB 1009, was passed by the Senate on April 20, 1988, by a vote of 69 to 27.

All that was left was to convince President Reagan to sign HR 442 into law. As a captain in the Army, President Reagan had presented a Distinguished Service Cross to the family of Kazuo Masuda, 442nd Regimental Combat Team, posthumously. Captain Reagan stated, “The blood that has soaked into the sands of the beach is all of one color. America stands unique in the world, the only country not founded on race, but on a way ‑ an ideal.” On August 10, 1988, President Reagan signed H.R. 442, the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. President Reagan stated at the signing ceremony, “Here we reaffirm our commitment as a nation to equal justice under the law.”

The first redress payments to Central California residents were made at a ceremony in the Federal District Court in Fresno on October 12, 1990. Assistant United States Attorney General  John Dunn presented President George Bush’s letter of apology and $20,000 checks to Shigeto Thomas Ito (92), George Masumi Sakai (92), Neal Nishino (93), Sumino Yemoto (97), and Fuji Hashimoto (102). He stated, “The root meaning of redress is ‘to rearrange’ or ‘set in order again.’ Its meaning today, according to Webster’s dictionary, is to remedy or rectify, to make amends for wrong done or injury inflicted. While we know we cannot ‘rearrange’ our past and we cannot undo the harm and injustice of the internment and relocation, we can make amends.”

The letter from President Bush states, “In enacting a law calling for restitution and offering a sincere apology, your fellow Americans have, in a very real sense, renewed their traditional commitment to the ideals of freedom.”