On-line Book
Book Cover
Cover Page


Table of Contents





Brief History

Gila River


Heart Mountain







Tule Lake

Isolation Centers

Add'l Facilities

Assembly Centers

DoJ and US Army Facilities



Appendix A

Appendix B

Appendix C

Confinement and Ethnicity:
Barbed wire divider
An Overview of World War II
Japanese American Relocation Sites

by J. Burton, M. Farrell, F. Lord, and R. Lord

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Chapter 18
Federal Bureau of Prisons

No Japanese American was ever charged and convicted of sabotage or spying during World War II. However, over a hundred Japanese Americans who sought to challenge the internment were convicted and sentenced to terms in federal prisons. These cases, highlighted in recent research (see, for example, work by Abe n.d.; Erickson 1998a, 1998b; Uyeda 1993), belie the perception that the Japanese American community passively accepted the relocation and internment.

Gordon Hirabayasi in 1942
Figure 18.1. Gordon Hirabayasi in 1942.
(Seattle Times photograph)
Gordon Hirabayashi, Minoru Yasui, and Fred Korematsu challenged the government's actions in court. Minoru Yasui had volunteered for military service after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and was rejected because of his Japanese ancestry. An attorney, he deliberately violated the curfew law of his native Portland, Oregon, stating that citizens have the duty to challenge unconstitutional regulations. Gordon Hirabayashi, a student at the University of Washington, also deliberately violated the curfew for Japanese Americans and disregarded the evacuation orders, claiming that the government was violating the 5th Amendment by restricting the freedom of innocent Japanese Americans (Figure 18.1). Fred Korematsu changed his name, altered his facial features, and went into hiding. He was later arrested for remaining in a restricted area (Davis 1982:118). In court, Korematsu claimed the government could not imprison a group of people based solely on ancestry.

All three lost their cases and the Supreme Court upheld the convictions of Hirabayashi and Yasui in June of 1943 and that of Korematsu in December 1944. Yasui spent several months in jail and was then sent to the Minidoka Relocation Center. Korematsu was sent to the Topaz Relocation Center while awaiting trial. Hirabayashi refused bail since he then would have been sent to a relocation center; he therefore spent several months in the King County jail in Washington. After the Supreme Court decision Hirabayashi served the remaining 3 months of his sentence at the Catalina Federal Honor Camp in Arizona.

Other protests by Japanese Americans were connected with military service. When the war began, many of the Japanese Americans who were in the military were dismissed, and U.S. citizens of Japanese ancestry were classified as enemy aliens ineligible for military service. However in May 1942, the 100th Infantry Battalion was formed in Hawaii, where the majority of Japanese American residents were not interned. The prohibition against other Japanese Americans serving in the military was lifted in early 1943, and the draft was re-instated for Japanese Americans on January 20, 1944. The all-Nisei 442nd Regimental Combat Team joined the 100th Infantry Battalion in Europe in June 1944. Over 33,000 Nisei served in World War II, with over 6,000 of them in the Pacific Theater (NJAHS 1995:70, 77).

However, there were protests over the internment both within and outside the military. In March 1944, 106 Nisei soldiers at Fort McClellan in Alabama refused to undergo combat training while their families were held behind barbed wire without trial. Twenty-eight were court-martialed and sent to Leavenworth prison with sentences from 5 to 30 years (Nakagawa 1999; NJAHS 1995:76-77).

Trial of 63 Japanese American draft resisters from
the Heart Mountain Relocation Center
Figure 18.2. Trial of 63 Japanese American draft resisters from the Heart Mountain Relocation Center.
(from NJAHS 1995)

More than 300 internees refused to be drafted into the military until their constitutional rights as citizens were restored (Figures 18.2-18.4). The resisters did not object to the draft, in itself, but hoped that by defying the conscription orders they would clarify their citizenship status. If they were to share in the rights and duties of citizens, why did the government forcibly incarcerate them and their families? If their loyalty was in question, why were they being drafted?

Draft resisters just released from McNeil Island wearing
government-issued suits
Figure 18.3. Draft resisters just released from McNeil Island wearing government-issued suits.
(from Uyeda 1993)

Japanese Americans imprisoned at the Catalina
Federal Honor Camp at their first reunion in 1946
Figure 18.4. Japanese Americans imprisoned at the Catalina Federal Honor Camp at their first reunion in 1946.
(photograph courtesy of Kenji Taguma)

At least two federal judges agreed with the resisters' position. Charges against 26 resisters from the Tule Lake Segregation Center were dismissed by Judge Louis Goodman, who said in his decision "It is shocking to the conscience that an American Citizen be confined on the grounds of disloyalty and then while so under duress and restraint, be compelled to serve in the Armed Forces or prosecuted for not yielding to such compulsion" (Associated Press 1944). Some 100 resisters from the Poston Relocation Center were fined 1 cent each, the judge deciding that the imprisonment of the relocation center itself was sufficient punishment (Weglyn 1976:303). However, other resisters were sentenced to up to 3 years in federal prisons. Young draft resisters from the Heart Mountain Relocation Center were sent to the McNeil Island Federal Penitentiary in Washington; older men were sent to the Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary in Kansas. Draft resisters from Granada and other relocation centers were sent to the Catalina Federal Honor Camp in Arizona. The draft resisters were pardoned in 1947 by President Harry S. Truman. However, the questions of whether citizens must "prove" loyalty when their rights have been revoked, and how citizens can best stand up for civil rights, have still not been resolved.

Catalina, Arizona | Leavenworth, Kansas | McNeil Island, Washington

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Last Modified: Fri, Sep 1 2000 07:08:48 pm PDT

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