Japanese Americans and the Struggle for Immigrant Justice
By Ann E. Fink, and June Hibino, members of Nikkei Progressives Immigration Committee
This year marks the 82nd anniversary of the signing of Executive Order 9066 by President Franklin Roosevelt on February 19, 1942. EO9066 set in motion the forced removal and incarceration of some 110,000 Japanese Americans in remote concentration camps located in the country’s interior. Every year in Japanese American communities and on campuses across the country, Day of Remembrance events are held. This year’s Los Angeles Day of Remembrance will take place at the Japanese American National Museum on February 17, 2024 @ 2:00 p.m. and the public is invited. (See details at the end.)
Given only a few days to pack up and leave and told to bring only what they could carry, Japanese people lost their homes, property and businesses, and had to give up their jobs, their education and their lives as they knew it. Newspapers propagated racist, dehumanizing caricatures of Japanese people who were stigmatized as enemy aliens, potential spies and saboteurs. Forced to spend on average 3 years behind barbed wire – once they were released from camps, Japanese people faced discrimination and violence as they attempted to rebuild their lives from scratch.
Anti-Asian racism and xenophobia did not begin with the WWII camps. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was the first anti-immigrant legislation that targeted a specific ethnic group. After the Chinese were excluded; laborers from Japan and other Asian countries were brought over to toil in the plantations in Hawaii and on the farms and railroads of the West Coast. The first generation Issei were not allowed to become citizens and due to the alien land laws, could not own land. The Asian Exclusion Act of 1924 then closed the door to Japanese and other Asian immigrants, and the restriction was not eased until the 1960s.
Historical accounts often paint a picture of Japanese Americans passively submitting to their fate during WWII – a negative stereotype of Asian Americans as submissive “model minorities.” This story is false and the theme of this year’s Day of Remembrance program, “Rooted in Resistance: Fighting for Justice During World War II,” will highlight the true stories of those who fought for equality and justice while in camp: the draft resisters, the renunciants (those who gave up their U.S. citizenship in protest) and those who answered “no-no” to the mandatory loyalty questionnaire.
In the decades following the WWII concentration camps there have always been Japanese Americans and Asian Americans who have fought for equality and justice – whether during the civil rights movement of the 60s or the Japanese American redress movement of the 1980s.
Today, Nikkei Progressives (NP) continues a long tradition in the Japanese community of progressive activism and solidarity. NP actively supports reparations for Black Americans who are still impacted by the trans-Atlantic slave trade and structural racism generations after slavery ended. Recently, NP joined the steering committee of the California Alliance for Reparations, Reconciliation and Truth (AART) and is working to build support for Black reparations within the Japanese American and API communities.
And while white supremacists and politicians stir up anti-immigrant hate by framing immigrants as criminals, there is nevertheless compassion and the recognition of a shared humanity among many Japanese Americans who have stepped forward to help those seeking refuge, stability, economic survival and opportunity. NP has raised funds for backpacks and supplies for people leaving the Adelanto detention center and for temporary shelters in the LA area and has organized donation drives for shoes and clothing for Bridge of Love Across the Border, which takes these items to shelters in Tijuana.
Along with our partners in the Shutdown Adelanto Coalition and in API Rise, we helped push for state legislation that would protect immigrants from a form of double punishment, where, having completed their prison sentence, immigrants are then transferred to ICE facilities for a second incarceration. This struggle continues, as does efforts to secure pardons from Gov. Newsom to allow Southeast Asian community members such as Phoeun You to return home to the U.S.
NP, ICIJ and the SDA coalition were hopeful that the ICE facility at Adelanto would close on February 19. ICE, however, has extended GEO’s Adelanto contract until at least June. NP will continue, along with our partners, to fight for a just and humane immigration policy including the closure of the Adelanto facility. We encourage readers to continue to support the Shutdown Adelanto Coalition and take action, in honor of Day of Remembrance, and in honor of all immigrants in hopeful transit toward safety and opportunity.
NP invites all ICIJ and Shutdown Adelanto Coalition members to attend this year’s Day of Remembrance: 2/17/24 @ 2:00 p.m. at the Japanese American National Museum, 100 N. Central Avenue in Little Tokyo. The Day of Remembrance program will also be live-streamed. For more information:
For more information about Nikkei Progressives:
For more information about the WWII incarceration of Japanese Americans:
June Hibino, who has been retired since 2017, is on the coordinating committee of Nikkei Progressives and works in the immigration and electoral committees. In the past, June was involved in community organizing against evictions by the redevelopment agency in San Francisco’s Japantown through the Committee Against Nihonmachi Eviction (CANE), and the fight for Japanese American redress for the World War II incarceration, through the National Coalition for Redress & Reparations (now Nikkei for Civil Rights and Redress), among other issues and struggles.
Ann Fink, Ph.D., LSW (she/they), is a neuroscientist, educator, ethicist and mental health practitioner. Ann also serves on the Immigration Committee for Nikkei Progressives, where they work collaboratively with other members through direct action and advancement of policies centered on justice for immigrants. Among other key priorities, Ann is committed to advancement of LGBTQ+ rights and mental health, prevention and healing around gender violence, and creative methods of communication and engagement through visual arts and comics.