Today marks the 23rd anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1988, which offered our nation's official (and long overdue) apology to the thousands of Japanese-Americans who were interred in camps during World War II under Executive Order 9066.
All told, 120,000 Americans were imprisoned during the war because of the nation's collective hysteria over its "enemies within." Make that imagined enemies.
The ACLU of Northern California was one of the few groups at the time to challenge this unlawful imprisonment when it took up the case of Fred Korematsu, who defied the order to leave his home and move to one of the camps.
They took the case all the way to the Supreme Court.
Fred was also instrumental in winning reparations for Japanese-Americans and for the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1988. In 1998 President Clinton awarded Fred the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
The Civil Rights Act of 1988 reads in part that "these actions were carried out without adequate security reasons and without any acts of espionage or sabotage ... and were motivated largely by racial prejudice, wartime hysteria, and a failure of political leadership"
Sound familiar? Even today, many Americans eye their Arab-American and Islamic-American countrymen with suspicion. Some of these citizens face unlawful surveillance, imprisonment and religious persecution.
In 2004, Fred Korematsu appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court again -- this time on behalf of the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. He recognized the similarities between his case in 1942 and that of Guantanamo Bay prisoners today. Those deemed to be "enemy combatants" today continue to be held without formal charges, without any fair hearing to determine guilt or innocence and often without the assistance of counsel.
The ACLU is working to help Arab-Americans and Muslim-Americans from civil liberties abuses during the "War on Terror."
Photos in this blog entry depicting Japanese-Americans awaiting their transport to the internment camps are courtesy of the U.S. National Archives.