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Biden Signs Law Ensuring Preservation of World War II Japanese American Internment Camps

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Funding for projects documenting the history of internment for Japanese Americans is set to continue for much of the next decade after Congress passed a set of laws to ensure this period of World War II history is not forgotten.

Educational programs on Japanese American internment camps will receive $90 million in funding after Congress passed two laws ensuring the preservation of historical sites relating to World War II incarceration.

The Norman Y. Mineta Japanese American Confinement Education (JACE) Act, passed as part of an appropriations bill in December, allocates $80 million to the Japanese American Confinement Sites (JACS) grant program. The JACS program funds the preservation of internment sites, including the Honouliuli Internment Camp in Hawai’i.

An additional $10 million will be used to fund a new educational program covering the historical importance of Japanese American confinement during World War II.

The second law, the World War II Japanese American History Network Act, directs the Secretary of the Interior to establish a new network within the National Park Service to coordinate activities raising awareness of the history of Japanese Americans during World War II.

Senator Brian Schatz of Hawai‘i, who coauthored the legislation, said that “the internment of Japanese American citizens remains one of the darkest and most shameful periods in our history.”

“Our new law will ensure that we continue to preserve internment sites and create a new grant program to educate more people about Japanese American confinement,” he added.

The JACE Act is named after Norman Yoshio Mineta, a former government official who was interned with his family at a camp in Wyoming when he was a boy. Mineta went on to represent California in Congress for two decades before becoming part of President Clinton’s cabinet in 2000 as Secretary of Commerce. He was the first person of East Asian descent to serve as a US Cabinet Secretary.

During World War II, the US government forced approximately 120,000 Japanese Americans from their homes and into internment camps amid an atmosphere of paranoia about their loyalties.

The United States made its first state apology to the internees in 1988 when Congress passed the Civil Liberties Act. The Act offered reparations to affected citizens and included a pledge to “discourage the occurrence of similar injustices and violations of civil liberties in the future.”

The JACS program was set up in 2006 and provides grants to non-profit organizations and educational institutions, including the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai‘i, which conducts public tours at the Honouliuli Internment Site. The US military opened the site in 1943 and used it as both an internment camp as well as a prisoner-of-war camp.

By the end of the war in 1945, authorities had interned more than 2,000 people of Japanese ancestry in Hawai‘i. The Civil Liberties Act recognized that these internments “were motivated largely by racial prejudice, wartime hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.”

Today, more than 1.4 million Japanese Americans live in the United States, including more than 300,000 in Hawai‘i, and the two countries share more than 450 sister state and sister city relationships. For more, check out Japan Matters for America, jointly published by the East-West Center and the Sasakawa Peace Foundation.

Aaron McNicholas is a participant in the Young Professionals Program at the East-West Center in Washington. He is a graduate student in the MA in Asian Studies program at Georgetown University, with a concentration in politics and security.