America’s Forgotten Internment

The United States confined 2,200 Latin Americans of Japanese descent during World War II. They’re still pushing for redress.

12/5/2021 10:00:00 PM

Most Americans today aware that the U.S. government imprisoned Japanese Americans in internment camps on no other evidence than the fact of their heritage during World War II. But one chapter of this history has remained much more hidden

The United States confined 2,200 Latin Americans of Japanese descent during World War II. They’re still pushing for redress.

Politico Magazine@jesusrodriguezb.That March morning in 2017, Art Shibayama had come to Washington by choice. The organization that had invited him is housed in an imposing marble structure adjacent to the White House that has stood since 1910 as a reminder that, outside U.S. borders, the word “America” doesn’t describe a country but a whole continent. Before the human rights commission of the Organization of American States, a regional alliance of Western Hemisphere countries, Shibayama unspooled a tragic succession of indignities he and his family had been made to suffer nearly eight decades earlier, as he charged the U.S. government with violating his human rights.

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What Shibayama, by then a resident of California, told the OAS in person and in legal documents, was that he was brought to America by force.In1944, during the height of World War II, a 13-year-oldShibayama was living with his family in Lima, Peru, where his grandparents had immigrated from Japan years earlier. On March 1, Peruvian police arrived at the family’s home in broad daylight to round them up and hand them over to U.S. authorities. For 21 days, the Shibayamas traveled below deck on a U.S. naval vessel with dozens of other Peruvians of Japanese descent, bound for New Orleans. From there, armed U.S. military personnel would take them to a camp in Crystal City, Texas, where they were held as candidates for a hostage exchange program with Japan, even though Shibayama was born in Peru and a citizen of that country.

As he testified in 2017, what seemed to weigh most heavily on Shibayama’s mind was the official label the government gave him after eventually releasing him. “I want the government to erase the ‘illegal’ status from my record,”Shibayama told the commission headtopics.com

, his elbows supporting the weight of his frame as he leaned into the microphone. “The government brought us here at gunpoint — so how could they classify us as illegal aliens?”Most Americans today are well aware that, during World War II, the U.S. government imprisoned Japanese Americans, including U.S. citizens, in internment camps on no other evidence than the fact of their heritage. They know of the wartime hysteria that cloaked the government’s logic, and the racism and xenophobia Japanese Americans faced. But one chapter of this history has remained much more hidden, much less acknowledged by public officials: The United States simultaneously ran a parallel internment system that confined some 2,200 Latin Americans of Japanese descent, kidnapping individuals from countries such as

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Peru, Bolivia and Colombia— whose political leaders were in on the plot — and confining them on U.S. soil.Art Shibayama, seated in between his daughter Bekki (center) and Grace Shimizu of the Japanese Peruvian Oral History Project (right), testifies during an Inter-American Commission on Human Rights hearing on March 21, 2017. The hearing was in response to a 2003 petition Shibayama and his two brothers filed seeking redress for his family’s forced migration from Peru to a U.S. internment camp during World War II. | Daniel Cima/IACHR

Most Americans also probably think the Japanese internment chapter was closed decades ago, when the U.S. government approved the largest reparations program it has ever enacted: the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, a historic law that gave $20,000 and a formal apology to victims of Japanese internment who were U.S. citizens or permanent residents.

But as the country praised itself for righting that historical wrong, it excluded those it had kidnapped from abroad. Although many of them were exiled to Japan after the war, the Japanese Latin Americans who remained in the United States were ineligible for the reparations program. They later received some compensation through a court settlement, but the sum was so much lower and the apology so formulaic that some decided not to accept. headtopics.com

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While the United States government hasadmitted to the Japanese Latin American internment program, the dwindling group of living victims and their descendants — including Shibayama’s daughter, Bekki — are still pushing for full compensation and recognition. And they argue the responsibility for addressing this moral debt now falls squarely on the shoulders of President Joe Biden and his administration. Their prospects might have looked better at a time of growing support for reparations and with a president who has pledged to defend human rights, as well as a Cabinet member who once vocally supported their cause. Yet, so far, the White House has been mostly silent, seeming to ignore requests for information or meetings from high-level international officials and the victims’ families.

Shibayama died in 2018, in San Jose, Calif., after decades living in America as a farmworker, an undocumented immigrant, an Army draftee and,since 1970, a U.S. citizen. But two years after his death, OAS’ Inter-American Commission on Human Rights released a report declaring that the United States had violated his right to equality under the law when it excluded him, as well as his brothers, from the 1988 reparations program. Moreover, IACHR found that Japanese Latin Americans “fell into a sort of legal no-man’s-land” when they were released as undocumented immigrants, a distinction that led to “wild inequalities.” The report made two recommendations to the United States: reparations, including monetary compensation, as well as “full disclosure” of any information the U.S. government had relating to the internment of Japanese Latin Americans.

By all public accounts, the Trump State Department,which had deemed Shibayama’s petition“inadmissible,” did not act in response to the IACHR report. On Aug. 16, 2021, after a new administration had come into power, IACHR tried again, sending a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, obtained by Politico Magazine, that asked the government to provide, by Oct. 15, “detailed information on the actions undertaken by the State during this year to comply with each of the recommendations.” When the administration did not respond, a small organization called Campaign for Justice: Redress NOW for Japanese Latin Americans, which participated in the Shibayama case, decided to reach out to the administration directly.

The group has sent two letters to the Biden administration since September requesting a meeting with the U.S. ambassador to the OAS, Bradley Freden, and, more recently, with the White House’s Asian American and Pacific Islander senior liaison, Erika Moritsugu. Neither the White House nor the Department of State acknowledged receipt of the letters in repeated requests for comment, though U.S. Postal Service tracking information shows they were delivered; Grace Shimizu, one of the letters’ signatories, said Moritsugu recently acknowledged receipt by email. “Like the Trump administration, you have chosen to ignore the IACHR and its October 15th deadline,” the group’s most recent letter, first reported here, states. “A resolution of this matter is long overdue.” headtopics.com

In the first public acknowledgment of this case since Biden’s inauguration, a State Department spokesperson said the agency takes IACHR petitions “very seriously” but noted that the United States has not ratified the 1969 convention that created the commission, “so any recommendations made by the IACHR are non-binding for the U.S. government.” (The IACHR, which did not respond to a request for comment for this article, said in its report that it analyzed Shibayama’s legal claims under the OAS Charter, which the United States ratified in 1951.)

President Joe Biden speaks at the rededication ceremony for The Dodd Center for Human Rights in Storrs, Conn., on Oct. 15. | Evan Vucci/AP Photo“The United States acknowledges the suffering experienced by the Shibayama family and those similarly situated,” the State Department statement continued. “Nevertheless, the United States reiterates its view that the petition in this case should have been found inadmissible and the IACHR lacked competence to pronounce on its merits.”

The White House did not respond to multiple requests for comment.The Campaign for Justice had placed their hopes on Biden, who during a February foreign policy speech promised to “defend equal rights of people the world over.” But the group has been dismayed. “I expected more of the Biden Administration than this inaccurate, unfeeling, technocratic response,” Shimizu wrote in an email. Bekki Shibayama wondered: “Why is the United States government compounding the suffering that they have acknowledged against my family and other JLAs?”

On Dec. 9, two days after the 80th anniversary of the bombing at Pearl Harbor, Biden plans to host a “Summit for Democracy” that aims to cast respect for human rights as crucial to democratic well-being. That 80-year chasm also underscores how long interned Japanese Latin Americans have been waiting for redress. The path forward for the Campaign for Justice looks difficult, but Shimizu

saidthat whatever the Biden administration does, “we will continue until our demands for justice are met.”After all, history, unless insisted upon, has a way of vanishing.America’s paranoiaJapanese American history resourceoverseen by historians and academics, President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1940 authorized the FBI to station “legal attachés” at U.S. embassies in Latin America to conduct surveillance of people of Japanese descent and generate a so-called “proclaimed list” of individuals suspected to favor the Axis powers. Although some countries resisted cooperation, Peru was eager to maintain close relations with the United States; its president, Manuel Prado, thought he could consolidate support for re-election at home with a show of force.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor only accelerated the hysteria, and soon, countries like Peru requested U.S. military transports to spirit away individuals they perceived as “threats.” According to a 1998law review articleby Natsu Taylor Saito, a professor of law at Georgia State College of Law, the United States had proposed to repatriate all Axis officials who were in Latin America in early 1942 — but Peru took this plan a step further by also compiling lists of civilians it wished to expel. The U.S.-Peru relationship had been buoyed by a $29 million lend-lease agreement that provided Peru with weapons to defend itself after the war broke out, according to

one government report.The first ship of Japanese Latin Americans bound for the States, carrying 141 men, left Peru in April 1941. In adiplomatic cable from the Lima embassydated July 1942, the U.S. ambassador to Peru wrote that Prado remained “very much interested [in] the possibility of getting rid of the Japanese in Peru,” and asked about “additional shipping facilities from the United States.” In her article, Saito cites evidence that the State Department knew that “most of the Japanese arrested by Peruvian authorities had no connection to either the war effort or the lists prepared by the United States.”

For Shibayama, it all happened very quickly. According to biographical details in his IACHR testimony, the subsequent IACHR report and a 2004,Hidden Internment, Shibayama’s childhood summers in Peru meant waking up to swim in the beaches of Callao, a coastal district in the Lima metropolitan area where his grandparents lived. Every morning, they watched him dip into Pacific waters before it was time to open the small shop they ran. But the water also made Callao a port town, and one day, sometime in late 1942, his grandparents became part of the first group of Japanese Latin Americans to be seized and taken to Texas, according to the IACHR.

Art Shibayama’s grandparents — shown in their store in Callao, Peru, in 1931 — immigrated to the country from Japan. During World War II, they became part of the first group of Japanese Latin Americans to be seized by U.S. officials and taken to an internment camp in Texas. | Courtesy of the A. Shibayama Family Collection

Whenever Callao’s residents spotted the ships coming in, many Japanese men went into hiding to elude the authorities. In 1944, Shibayama’s father did exactly that. When the Peruvian police came to the family’s house, Shibayama’s mother refused to reveal her husband’s location, so she was taken to jail instead, her 11-year-old daughter in tow. “They hugged each other and cried all night,” Shibayama told the IACHR. Soon, the rest of the

family surrendered, and they were taken into custody by U.S. Armed Forces. When they disembarked in New Orleans, on March 21, members of the U.S. military led

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Yeah. Not many living today had anything to do with that. But keep pushing that white guilt agenda. Cause that makes you cool. In there defense Samurai and Kamikazes are scary as shit. But I can see a reparations and or huge group lawsuit in the future. Constitutional civil rights violations are a crime against humanity.

Na eternidade todos conhecerão a verdade. Cuidado! Você pode descobrir que passou a vida do lado errado. Será tarde demais. Escolha Jesus hoje! OurWayToMenengai4 🛑🛑🛑🛑🛑🛑🛑🛑🛑🛑🛑🛑🛑🛑🛑🛑🛑🛑🛑🛑🛑🛑🛑🛑🛑🛑🛑🛑 GOP will protect the white supremacist narrative that has beleaguered American history taught in federally funded schools...so this information will continue to get buried.

Japanese Americans were placed in concentration camps only for being Japanese, this was a black mark of second world War by America Why nobody talk about low efficiency and greedy American medical system? Damage our national strength already. This is simply horrible. When are we as a nation going to gain the courage to look at our history in an honest and open review?

that great democrat FDR did that As per Amerikkka, if you are different and we are afraid we will come for you one way or another. Does American history include a time in which non whites were not treated like trash? I won’t hold my breath waiting for an answer! Just curious - did anything happen to German-Americans during WWII?

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Like so many other aspects of dirty American history. If you've taken a high school history class, I'm pretty sure you're aware of this fact. 🤣

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