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Today in history: The shameful forced removal of Japanese-Americans

President Franklin Roosevelt signed an executive order to permit the forcible removal of Japanese-Americans from parts of the West Coast

February 19, 1942: Fearing sabotage during World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which ordered the forcible removal of Japanese-Americans from parts of the West Coast. FDR's order was followed by the relocation of approximately 110,000 Japanese-Americans and Japanese from the Pacific coast to internment camps. In the aftermath of Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, there was fear that the West Coast would be attacked. Oregon was actually bombed in September 1942.

But FDR's order was not applied equally. While all who lived on the West Coast were interned, only about 1 percent of the 150,000-plus Japanese-Americans in Hawaii (which was attacked, of course) were. Those 150,000 comprised about one-third of Hawaii's population, and of the small number that was interned, most were American citizens.

In 1944, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the exclusion orders, but noted that the provisions that singled out people of Japanese ancestry were a separate issue outside the scope of the proceedings. How did the government identify Japanese-Americans? With the help of the Census Bureau, which provided confidential information.

In 1980, President Jimmy Carter oversaw an investigation meant to determine whether the internment order was justified. The Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians found little evidence of Japanese disloyalty and recommended the government pay reparations to the survivors. They formed a payment of $20,000 to each individual internment camp survivor. These were the reparations passed by President Ronald Reagan.

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