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House approves measure to preserve WWII internment camps
McClatchy Newspapers


December 05, 2006
Tuesday PM

WASHINGTON -- Congress completed action Tuesday on legislation to preserve and protect the remnants of one of the darkest chapters in American history: the internment camps and gathering centers that were used in the roundup and forced detention of Japanese American citizens during World War II.




The voice vote in the House of Representatives came two days short of the 65th anniversary of the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. That tragedy stirred such fear and anger in the United States that President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 three months later, ordering the roundup. The Supreme Court later upheld the directive on the grounds of "pressing public necessity."

Congress issued a formal apology in 1988 and offered $20,000 apiece in compensation to the survivors of the camps, who lost their freedom and property without any formal legal proceedings. Lesser numbers of Alaska Natives, Germans and Italians also were ordered detained.

On the West Coast, the Japanese Americans drew a strong public reaction. They were removed from their homes with very few possessions, taken to processing centers and transported to the internment camps, in remote corners of seven states, where they lived behind barbed-wire fences for most of the war.

Ten relocation centers were built to house them, and two - Manzanar and Minidoka - have been turned over to the National Park Service. With money from the legislation, what remains of the others can be restored and operated by local sponsors to keep the memory of the camps alive. President Bush is expected to sign the bill.

"By preserving these sites we will be demonstrating our commitment to equal treatment under the law," said Rep. Michael Honda, D-Calif., who spent time as a child in the Grenada War Relocation Center near Amache, Colo.

The legislation authorizes up to $38 million in federal grants to help preserve the camps and gathering centers. The money must be matched by local communities. It can be used to buy land, restore what remains of the centers and construct interpretive centers.

The chief author of the legislation is Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Calif., who choked with tears last November when the measure first came to the floor and passed, also on a voice vote. Thomas, the stern and acerbic chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, is retiring, and his bill could be his final legislative victory after 28 years in the House.

"The understanding of this period in our history is essential," Thomas declared. "It has to do with the fundamental rights even of native-born citizens in a time of war."

Thomas' interest in the plight of the Japanese Americans at the camps dates back to his service in the California legislature, when he roomed with former state Sen. Floyd Mori, who's now the acting head of the Japanese American Citizens League.

Honda praised Thomas for his "passionate dedication" to preserving the sites, saying the Japanese American community "is overjoyed to be part of the final act of your illustrious career in Congress."

An estimated 120,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans were rounded up under the executive order. Almost two-thirds of them were U.S. citizens. Many never recovered their confiscated property.

"The internment of thousands of Japanese Americans during World War II is a painful part of our nation's past," said Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Calif. "The memories of the time when so many innocent Americans spent in stark and isolated camps continue to resonate today."

Matsui was born in the Poston Relocation Center in Arizona, where her parents met while in confinement. Her late husband, Rep. Robert Matsui, had spent a brief period in California's Tule Lake War Relocation Center near the Oregon border before being moved to an Idaho camp. Tule Lake was the center where the most troublesome detainees were sent, many simply because they refused to sign loyalty pledges.

"Let us pass it today so that those who come after us will know of the places where their ancestors struggled for freedom in the country that they loved," said Matsui, a co-sponsor and leading proponent of Thomas' bill.


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