Council members on Tuesday rescinded a Jan. 27, 1942, resolution that called for the FBI to remove Japanese Americans and other “enemy aliens” from the community. The original resolution came days after President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which set the stage for the forced removal and incarceration of people of Japanese descent.
“The San Diego City Council apologizes to all persons of Japanese ancestry for its actions during World War II in support of the exclusion, removal, and unjust imprisonment of residents of Japanese America (sic) and of Japanese ancestry, and for its actions during this period to protect and uphold the civil rights and civil liberties of these individuals. not having defended,” says the new resolution.
Japanese Americans were the target of racism and discrimination in the 20th century. before the 19th century, but anti-Japanese sentiment increased dramatically during World War II. On December 7, 1941, Japanese forces bombed the US naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, killing more than 2,000 Americans. As a result of the surprise attack, the Japanese Americans became increasingly dismissive and hostile, and their loyalty was questioned. The head of the Western Defense Command, General John L. DeWitt, called them a “racial enemy.”
San Diego used similar rhetoric in its 1942 resolution, which the San Diego Public Library discovered last year was still on the books. In collaboration with the Japanese American Citizens League of San Diego and the Japanese American Historical Society of San Diego, the resolution was reported to city leaders.
“The San Diego City Council respectfully calls the attention of the Federal Bureau of Investigation to the fact that there are many enemy aliens in and around San Diego, especially Japanese, whose continued residence here is considered to be against the interests of this vital defense zone,” the original resolution reads. “The Federal Bureau of Investigation is requested to remove enemy aliens from this area, as their presence here is of great concern to the City of San Diego due to the presence of known subversive elements.”
Beginning in 1942, more than 100,000 people of Japanese ancestry — most of them US citizens — were forced from their homes and eventually forced to live in one of 10 remote concentration camps throughout the West and Arkansas. Although some Japanese Americans tried to challenge the constitutionality of the prison, the Supreme Court upheld it. The last concentration camp was closed in 1946.
The federal government distributed $37 million in reparations in 1948, but it would be decades before the nation came to terms with the serious violation of civil liberties. In 1980, Congress created a commission to study the impact of the prison, ultimately determining that it was the result of “racial prejudice, wartime hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.” And after years of advocacy by Japanese Americans, President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which apologized to Japanese Americans and awarded $20,000 in restitution to each surviving prisoner.
In 2020, California formally apologized for its treatment of Japanese Americans during World War II.