Bill focuses on Japanese Latin American detainees
The plight of Latin Americans of Japanese descent during World War II is getting renewed attention in Congress.
Under a bill introduced by U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, a commission would be created to study the circumstances involving the relocation, internment and deportation of Japanese Latin Americans during the 1940s.
"It's so timely because so many of our people have passed away and we appreciate the senator moving on this and helping it to move more quickly," said Grace Shimizu, director of the Japanese Peruvian Oral History Project, a California-based advocacy initiative.
The bill, S. 381, was passed out of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs this week unamended. It now goes to the full Senate.
"Determining the facts of this history is both important and difficult," Inouye said. "But the truth, no matter how painful, can also strengthen our commitment to America's democratic principles."
From 1941 to 1945, the U.S. government, under agreements with Latin American governments, seized 2,264 ethnic Japanese from 13 Latin American countries and brought them to the United States in order to exchange them for American citizens held captive in Japan.
Of that figure, about 800 internees were deported to Japan.
Japanese Americans interned during World War II received an apology and were compensated by the U.S. government under the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, but most Japanese Latin Americans were excluded because they were considered "illegal aliens."
In 1996, a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of all Japanese Latin Americans who had been denied redress was settled, granting an apology and $5,000 compensation payments to Japanese Latin Americans who were interned. A provision of the agreement allowed for pursuit of legislation for equitable redress in the Congress, according to Campaign for Justice: Redress Now for Japanese Latin Americans.
Under Inouye's bill, the commission would be composed of nine members. Three each would be appointed by the president, the speaker of the House and the president pro tempore of the Senate.
The panel would have the power to hold public hearings, receive evidence and give testimony. Based on what it uncovers, the committee also would be able to recommend remedies.
"It's important in helping to gain visibility for this issue that is so little known in our country," Shimizu said. "When questions are raised by people who suffered from U.S. policies and actions in the past and who feel that that was unjust -- it's good that we have a political process where we can raise this.
"It's never too late for us to have a better understanding of what happened with the hopes that we don't repeat those mistakes of the past."