Historic Resource Study/Special History Study
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Initial Relocation Program Plans of the War Relocation Authority

On March 18, 1942, the War Relocation Authority was established by Executive Order 9102 to "formulate and effectuate a program for the removal, from [designated areas] of the persons or classes of persons designated. . . and for their relocation, maintenance, and supervision." To carry out this function, the director of the WRA was "to provide for the relocation of such persons in appropriate places, provide for their needs in such manner as may be appropriate, supervise their activities. . . . provide. . . . for employment. . . . prescribe the terms and conditions of such employment." [1]

That same day President Roosevelt appointed as the WRA's first director Milton S. Eisenhower, a brother of the general who had previously served as an official in the Department of Agriculture. By his own admission, Eisenhower knew little about the west coast ethnic Japanese, the deliberations that had preceded the decision to evacuate them, or future government plans for the evacuees. [2] He faced a herculean task — hurriedly building an agency to direct and supervise the lives of more than 100,000 people in an atmosphere of racial animosity and suspicion, and, at the same time, deciding what to do with them. He quickly concluded that the evacuation would eventually be viewed as "avoidable injustice," but later he would state that it was an "inhuman mistake." [3]

Eisenhower faced an initial decision that would shape the rest of the WRA program — would the evacuees be resettled and placed in new homes and jobs, or would they be detained, confined, and supervised for the duration of the War? He had been given little or no guidance on this crucial issue. Beyond the fact that the military would deliver the evacuees to the relocation centers operated by the WRA and thereafter wished no further part in the "Japanese problem," nothing had been decided.

The Tolan Committee (discussed in Chapter Three of this study) had reported this major deficiency in planning in March 1942, observing that to "date the committee has been unable to secure from anyone charged with responsibility a clear-cut statement of the status of the Japanese evacuees, alien or citizen, after they pass through the reception." Notably, the committee offered some guidance in the matter, although firmly opposing incarceration of the evacuees for reasons that proved remarkably prophetic:

The incarceration of the Japanese for the duration of the war can only end in wholesale deportation. The maintenance of all Japanese, alien and citizen, in enforced idleness will prove not only a costly waste of the taxpayers' money, but it automatically implies deportation, since we cannot expect this group to be loyal to our Government or sympathetic to our way of life thereafter.

Serious constitutional questions are raised by the forced detention of citizens against whom no individual charges are lodged. Instead the committee favored a loyalty review at the assembly centers as a precursor for resettlement or relocation. After the "loyalty and dependability of all Japanese, alien and citizen alike" was examined at the reception centers, 'arrangements" should be implemented "for job placement outside of the prohibited areas of all persons certified." [4]

Only when this process failed to resolve all questions did the committee envision the establishment of resettlement communities.

Eisenhower and other top-level WRA officials started from premises similar to those of the Tolan Committee. They believe that the vast majority of evacuees were law-abiding and loyal and that, once removed from the restricted zone, they should be returned quickly to conditions approximating normal American life. Believing WRA's goal should be to achieve this rehabilitation, they immediately devised plans to move evacuees to the intermountain states. [5] The government would operate "reception centers," and some evacuees would work within them, developing the land and undertaking agricultural development. Many more, however, would work outside the centers, in private employment — manufacturing, farming, or establishing new self-supporting communities. [6]

Mike Masaoka, National Secretary of the Japanese American Citizens League, soon approached Eisenhower with a lengthy letter containing recommendations for policies the WRA should follow regarding relocation. This effort was grounded on the basic position the JACL had taken on exclusion and evacuation:

We have not contested the right of the military to order this movement, even though it meant leaving all that we hold dear and sacred, because we believe that cooperation on our part will mean a reciprocal cooperation on the part of the government.

Among the specific recommendations in the letter was the plea that the government permit Japanese Americans to have as much contact as possible with white Americans to avoid isolation and segregation. [7]

The WRA's plans were in sympathy with such an approach, but the government's experience with voluntary relocation suggested that the WRA would only be successful if it could enlist the help of the interior state governors. [8] Thus, the WRA arranged a meeting for officials representing the ten western states on April 7 in Salt Lake City, the day after Masaoka had sent Eisenhower his appeal for a cooperative relationship with the government. From the federal side, the three principal representatives were Thomas C. Clark, chief of the civilian staff of the WCCA (on temporary detail from the Department of Justice), Karl Bendetsen, director of the WCCA, and Eisenhower. The states were represented by five governors and a host of other officials, including several attorneys general and directors of State Agricultural Extension Services. Also in attendance was a small contingent of large-scale agricultural producers in the interior western states — particularly sugar beet companies with holdings in eastern Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Montana, and Colorado — who were anxious to employ evacuees for harvesting their crops amid the wartime labor shortages. [9] After Clark opened the meeting and discussed its intent, Bendetsen made the first presentation, describing the government's evacuation program and the Western Defense Command's rationale for procedures used to implement it. He described and defended the War Department's evacuations and procedures, arguing that, although some evacuees might be disloyal, once they were removed from the west coast, their danger to American society and the war effort would be minimal. He stated that the United States was faced with two "real" problems, both of which were peculiar to the west coast: (1) possible fifth column activity in the event of an invasion, and (2) the possibility of confusing the Japanese Americans with the enemy He also pointed out the impracticability of furnishing troops for scattered small contingents of evacuee agricultural workers. [10]

Eisenhower then described the WRA program. He emphasized his concern about the civil liberties of the evacuated people and the problem of making effective use of the manpower they represented. He indicated five types of work plans that he had in mind for the evacuees: (1) public works, including such things as the development of raw lands for agricultural production; (2) production of food, both for evacuee subsistence and for sale, on federally owned project lands; (3) manufacture of goods, such as camouflage nets and cartridge belts, which were needed by the military; (4) private employment; and (5) establishment of self-supporting communities that would be managed by the evacuees themselves rather than by the federal government. Playing down the portions of his plan that concerned private employment, he assured the state participants that security precautions would be taken, evacuees would not be permitted to own land against the wishes of the states, and the WRA would insure that evacuees did not become permanent residents. [11] The governors of the intermountain states quickly grasped the politics of the situation, and indicated their disagreement with Bendetsen's rationale and Eisenhower's social engineering. They opposed any evacuee land purchase or settlement in their states, and demanded guarantees that the government would forbid evacuees to buy land and that it would remove them at the end of the war. They objected to California using the interior states as a "dumping ground" for its Japanese "problem." People in their states were so bitter over the voluntary evacuation that had been initially encouraged by DeWitt (but was terminated by Public Proclamation No. 4, issued on March 27 and made effective at midnight two days later) that unguarded evacuees would undoubtedly face physical danger. Governor Herbert Maw of Utah proposed a plan whereby the states would run the relocation program with federal financing, while the governor of Idaho advocated rounding up and supervising all those who had already entered his state. The governor of Wyoming wanted evacuees placed in "concentration camps." With few exceptions, the other officials present echoed these sentiments. Only Governor Ralph L. Carr of Colorado took a moderate position. The voices of those hoping to use the evacuees for agricultural labor were drowned out amid the stormy proceedings. [12]

Bendetsen and Eisenhower, with little or no support from higher federal officials, were unable to face down this united political opposition. Eisenhower closed the meeting: the consensus was that the plan for assembly and relocation/reception centers was acceptable, as long as the evacuees remained under guard within the centers. As he left Salt Lake City, Eisenhower believed that the much of his proposed program as well as the "plan to move the evacuees into private employment had to be abandoned —at least temporarily." [13] Bendetsen came to a similar conclusion, remarking several weeks later: "You can't move people across the street! The premise is that who you consider to be so dangerous, that you can't permit him to stay at point 'A' — point 'B' will not accept." [14]

Before it had begun, Eisenhower and the WRA had thus abandoned its resettlement plans and adopted confinement policies. West coast politicians had achieved their long sought program of exclusion; politicians of the interior states had achieved their goal of detention. Without giving up its belief that evacuees should be brought back to normal productive life in American society as quickly as possible, the WRA had, in effect, become their jailer, contending that confinement was for the benefit of the evacuees and that the controls on their departure were designed to prevent mistreatment by other Americans. Accordingly, the agency immediately stepped up its search for suitable relocation center sites, in cooperation with the military and the WCCA, and concentrated the balance of its attention on the twin problems of building an organization and preparing for the reception of the evacuated people. [15]

Commencement of College Student Relocation

Throughout the balance of April and early May, the issue of relocation was largely submerged in WRA thinking by the more pressing problems of evacuee reception and establishment of the relocation centers. The issue remained alive, however, and eventually it was brought to a head by two simultaneous and parallel developments: (1) the early beginnings of what came to be known as college student relocation; and (2) the continuously mounting demand from western sugar producers for evacuee labor to help harvest their extensive sugar beet crops.

The special problem represented by the Nisei college students was noted as early as March 8 by a small group of educators and YMCA and YWCA officials in the San Francisco Bay area and was brought more sharply into focus on March 19 by the preliminary report of the Tolan Committee. In late March, a Student Relocation Committee was formed on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley, and general plans were developed for facilitation of the transfer of Nisei students to midwestern and eastern educational institutions. On April 7, the day of the Salt Lake City conference, President Robert G. Sproul of the University of California informed Tolan of the problem and indicated that he planned to submit proposals for its solution.

At a conference on April 11, WCCA and WRA representatives met in San Francisco to discuss the student problem. Both agencies agreed that permits should be given in a few especially deserving cases to students and others to leave the evacuated areas for immediate travel eastward to pursue their education.

On May 29, at the urging of Director Eisenhower and through the efforts of the American Friends Service Committee, the National Student Relocation Council (later the National Japanese American Student Relocation Council with headquarters in Philadelphia) was established at a meeting in Chicago, attended by college and university officials representing institutions throughout the country. Under the direction of its chairman, Dr. John W. Nason, president of Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, the council spent the summer focusing on the problem of facilitating a Nisei student transfer program for the opening of the academic term in autumn. Throughout April and early May, however, its predecessor organization, the West Coast Student Relocation Committee, had already helped about 75 Nisei students to move out and resume their studies, almost without a break, at schools and colleges lying east of the exclusion zone. [16] By September 30, 1942, a total of 143 junior colleges, colleges, and universities, had been approved for student relocation by both the War and Navy departments. Included were liberal arts colleges, such as Swarthmore in Pennsylvania, state universities, such as Nebraska and Texas, women's colleges such as Smith and Radcliffe, Catholic institutions, such as Gonzaga, teachers' colleges such as Colorado State College of Education, theological seminaries such as Union in New York City, technical institutions, such as Milwaukee College of Engineering, and specialized schools, such as Northern College of Optometry and the Oberlin Conservatory of Music.

Under the tentative leave policy adopted by the WRA on July 20, 1942, some 250 students were granted education leaves from assembly and relocation centers prior to September 30. Some of these students left during late July and August to attend summer sessions at various institutions, but the majority went on leave in September, thus resuming their education with the opening of the fall term. [17]

By December 31, 1943, the number of Japanese American students enrolled in American colleges and universities had increased to 2,263. During the last six months of 1943, an estimated 636 evacuees left relocation centers to attend institutions of higher learning. The group included recent graduates of the relocation center high schools, as well as students whose education had been interrupted by evacuation. Included in the number were approximately 200 girls who began nurse's training, the majority of whom enlisted under the U.S. Cadet Nurse's Corps program. In November, relocation officers in the centers began efforts to supplement the work of the National Japanese American Student Relocation Council by exploring opportunities for evacuees to study nursing in nearby approved hospitals and nursing schools. On October 14, the War Department dropped a ban that had prevented admission of students of Japanese ancestry to educational institutions conducting classified activities for the armed services, pending individual investigations similar to those required for work in war plants and approval from the Office of the Provost Marshal General. [18]

Seasonal Agricultural Work in Western Sugar Beet Fields

On May 13, 1942, the WRA and the WCCA acceded to the repeated demands of the western sugar beet producers, following a suggestion directly from the White House. The two agencies agreed on a joint plan for permitting immediate recruitment of seasonal farm workers at the assembly and reception/relocation centers. Under the plan the WRA undertook to handle negotiations with the employers, while the WCCA assumed a nominal responsibility for keeping track of the evacuee workers and assuring their ultimate return to government centers. This latter objective was accomplished without the use of troops by issuance of civilian restrictive orders by the Western Defense Command, establishing each county or group of counties where the evacuees were to work as a restricted area under the terms of Executive Order 9066 and forbidding any person of Japanese ancestry to leave the designated area without specific permission from the WRA. These orders were enforceable under the provisions of Public Law 503. In addition, the WRA-WCCA agreement set forth five requirements that had to be met before any employer's application for permission to recruit evacuee workers would be accepted: (1) payment of prevailing wages; (2) provision of adequate living quarters (without cost to the evacuee) at or near the place of employment; (3) assurances from state and local officials that law and order would be maintained; (4) provision of transportation for the workers from the centers to the places of employment and back to the appropriate center; and (5) assurances that employment of evacuees would not result in displacement of local labor.

Movement of evacuees into the sugar beet fields started on May 20, 1942, when a small contingent of 15 recruits from the Portland Assembly Center arrived on farm lands controlled by the Amalgamated Sugar Company near Nyssa, Oregon. The movement of evacuees to the beet fields continued during May and June, slacked off slightly in midsummer, and then was resumed in preparation for the fall harvest. Altogether, approximately 10,000 evacuees left WCCA and WRA centers during 1942 for seasonal agricultural work, principally in Idaho, Utah, Montana, Colorado, and eastern Oregon. By conservative estimates the evacuees probably saved enough beets to make nearly 250,000,000 pounds of sugar. [19]

Adoption of Basic Leave Regulations

Because the procedures to cover seasonal agricultural work did not address the problem of leaves from the centers for year-round employment, the first step toward solution of this issue was taken on July 20, 1942, when the WRA adopted a tentative policy permitting indefinite leaves. Under this policy., only American-born evacuees who had never lived or studied in Japan were permitted to apply for indefinite leave. Such leaves were granted only to applicants who had definite offers of employment somewhere outside the eight western states under the jurisdiction of the Western Defense Command. Before an indefinite leave permit was granted by the WRA director, the applicant was investigated by the relocation center staff and a record check was made with the FBI.

On September 26, the WRA issued a more comprehensive and liberal set of leave regulations which were published in the Federal Register on September 29 and became effective on October 1. Under the new regulations, any evacuee — citizen or alien — could apply for leave to visit or reside in any locality outside the evacuated area. Three types of leave from relocation centers were covered by the regulations: short-term, work-group, and indefinite. The three types of permits could be revoked by the WRA director in any case where the war effort or the public peace and security appeared to be endangered.

Short-term leave was intended for the evacuee who wished to leave a relocation center for a period of several weeks in order to consult with a medical specialist, negotiate a property arrangement, or transact other personal business. The leave was granted by the individual relocation center project directors for a definite period after investigation by the WRA staff at the centers. If a project director denied an application for short-term leave, the evacuee could appeal the decision to the WRA director in Washington.

Work-group leave was designed for evacuees to leave the centers as a group for seasonal agricultural work. Like short-term leave, it was granted by a relocation center project director for a definite period (which could be extended) and was subject to investigation at the center. Whenever possible, a record check was made with the FBI and other federal intelligence services for such permits. If the circumstances warranted, however, a project director could grant the permit without the record check.

Indefinite leave was granted to evacuees only by the WRA director in Washington and only if four specific requirements were met. The applicant for such leave must have a definite offer of a job or some other means of support. He must agree to keep the WRA informed of any changes in his job or address. His record at the relocation center and with the FBI and other intelligence services must contain no evidence of disloyalty to the United States. There must be reasonable evidence that his presence will be acceptable in the community where he proposed to make his new home.

Thus, by late September 1942, the WRA was "making definite plans" for resettlement of evacuees outside the relocation centers. Although the WRA had made resettlement "the primary aim of the relocation program," it did not mean that the agency "was contemplating an immediate and wholesale exodus from the centers." To the contrary, the WRA stated:

. . . . The somewhat elaborate machinery of checks and clearances involved in applications for indefinite leave, the difficulties encountered by evacuees in arranging for jobs without the opportunity to deal with prospective employers in person, the still-evident anxieties felt by many communities toward all people of Japanese ancestry, the reluctance of many evacuees themselves to leave the sanctuary of relocation centers in time of war — all these things suggested that individual resettlement would doubtless be a slow and gradual process. Within the limits prescribed by national security and administrative expedience, however, the Authority had determined to work toward a steady depopulation of the relocation centers and a widespread dispersal of evacuees throughout the interior sections of the country. . . . [20]

Problems Associated with Implementation of Relocation Program

According to the WRA's Story of Human Conservation, the implementation of the agency's relocation program was beset by numerous problems. As a result, the "actual movement of evacuees out of the centers to take up residence in normal communities did not take on significant proportions until the spring of 1943." Throughout the fall of 1942, the relocation program was, in the words of the chief of the Employment Division, on a "retail" basis. The publication continued:

. . . . Each application for indefinite leave was processed individually both at the relocation center and in the Washington office. In many cases, weeks and even months went by between the time an evacuee first submitted his application and the time he was finally able to depart from the center. The Authority's efforts to find employment opportunities for the evacuated people were handled mainly by the chief of the Employment Division himself and a few members of his immediate staff. Contacts were made on a somewhat informal basis and letters were sent to the various relocation centers advising them that an employer had been located who would be willing to consider employment of evacuees. From that point on, the negotiations were between any evacuee who might be interested and the employer. Inevitably, under these procedures the tempo of relocation movement from the centers was extremely slow and effected only a minor reduction in the center populations. By the end of 1942 less than 700 evacuees had left the centers on indefinite leave. [21]

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Last Updated: 01-Jan-2002