At the 2006 Day of Remembrance, then Rep. Xavier Becerra (right) was recognized for his efforts to create a commission on the wartime incarceration of Japanese Latin Americans. At the event, held at the Japanese American National Museum, he was presented with an honor from Nikkei for Civil Rights and Redress by emcee Junichi Semitsu. (MARIO GERSHOM REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer

President-elect Joe Biden has selected California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to be the next secretary of health and human services.

The formal announcement was made on Dec. 8. If confirmed, Becerra will be the first Latino to serve in that capacity.

As attorney general, he has been at the forefront of legal efforts on health care, leading 20 states and the District of Columbia in a campaign to protect the Affordable Care Act from being dismantled by his Republican counterparts.

Becerra previously served 12 terms in representing Los Angeles in Congress, where he was the first Latino to serve as a member of the powerful Committee on Ways And Means, served as chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, and was ranking member of the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security.

Becerra also played a significant role in the ongoing campaign to win redress for Japanese Latin Americans. During World War II, more than 2,000 people of Japanese ancestry from Peru and 12 other Latin American countries were rounded up and imprisoned in the U.S. to be exchanged for American citizens being held by Japan. Over 800 Japanese Latin Americans were sent to Japan in two hostage exchanges.

After the war, the U.S. deported more than 900 Japanese Peruvians to war-devastated Japan as Peru refused to take them back even if they were Peruvian citizens. More than 300 Japanese Peruvians remained in the U.S. and fought deportation.

When the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 awarded $20,000 redress payments and a formal apology to Japanese Americans who had been incarcerated, Japanese Latin Americans were excluded on the grounds that they were illegal immigrants, despite the fact that they had been brought to the U.S. against their will.

In 1998, the U.S. government made a partial concession, giving each Japanese Latin American detainee $5,000 if they agreed not to pursue further action through the courts. Some accepted while others declined and continued to press their case, pursuing lawsuits and legislation. Some also went outside the U.S. justice system to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, a body of the Organization of American States, which has agreed to hear their case.

Kay Ochi of Nikkei for Civil Rights and Redress (formerly National Coalition for Redress/Reparations) commented, “Former Congressman Xavier Becerra earned the gratitude and respect of the community with his strong support of Japanese Latin Americans in their struggle for redress comparable to Japanese American reparations. Becerra introduced legislation in 2000, 2002, 2003, 2005 (parity legislation), 2006 and 2007 (commission legislation with Sen. Daniel Inouye) on behalf of JLAs. He became a frequent, honored guest at the Los Angeles Day of Remembrance programs to update the community on his efforts.

“No legislator offered more legislative support for the JLAs than Xavier Becerra. We are deeply indebted for his principled actions.”

“Our families and community extend heartfelt congratulations to Attorney General Xavier Becerra on his nomination to serve as secretary of HHS,” said Grace Shimizu, director of the Japanese Peruvian Oral History Project. “Former WWII Japanese Latin American internees just won a significant redress victory in the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and will be bringing our case for redress to the U.S. government in early 2021.

“As an early and vocal advocate of our efforts while representing Los Angeles in Congress for over 20 years, we hope that A.G. Becerra will use his understanding of the wrongs suffered by JLAs during World War II to make this long-overdue redress a reality.”

In introducing the Wartime Parity and Justice Act of 2005 just prior to the Day of Remembrance (Feb. 19), Becerra discussed the damage done to the Japanese American community by Executive Order 9066 and said that “our nation did the right thing” when President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, but added: “Seventeen years after the passage of the CLA, we still have unfinished work to be done to rectify and close this regrettable chapter in our nation’s history.

“That is why I am re-introducing legislation to finish the remaining work of redress. While most Americans are aware of the internment of Japanese Americans, few know about our government’s activities in other countries resulting from prejudice held against people of Japanese ancestry.

“Recorded thoroughly in government files, the U.S. government involved itself in the expulsion and internment of an estimated 2,000 people of Japanese descent who lived in various Latin American countries. Uprooted from their homes and forced into the United States, these civilians were robbed of their freedom as they were kidnapped from nations not even directly involved in World War II. These individuals are still waiting for equitable redress, and justice cries out for them to receive it.

“That is why today I will introduce the Wartime Parity and Justice Act of 2005 to finally turn the last page in this chapter of our nation’s history. This bill provides redress to every Japanese Latin American individual forcibly removed and interned in the United States. These people paid a tremendous price during one of our nation’s most trying times … As we celebrate our great achievements as a nation, let us also recognize our errors and join together as a nation to correct those mistakes.

“My legislation is the right thing to do to affirm our commitment to democracy and the rule of law.

“In addition, the Wartime Parity and Justice Act of 2005 provides relief to Japanese Americans confined in this country but who never received redress under the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 given technicalities in the original law. Our laws must always establish justice. They should never deny it. That is why these provisions ensure that every American who suffered the same injustices will receive the same justice.

“Finally, my legislation will reauthorize the educational mandate in the 1988 Act, which was never fulfilled. This will etch this chapter of our nation’s history into our national conscience for generations to come as a reminder never to repeat it again.

“At the forefront of this continuous fight for justice, there are members of Congress and individuals of the community. This Saturday, I will have the privilege of joining with citizens in Los Angeles at the Japanese American National Museum to commemorate the Day of Remembrance.

“In addition, on April 8 and 9 of this year, there will be a public testimonial event called ‘The Assembly on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians’ at Hastings College of Law in San Francisco … At this historic event, former internees of Japanese descent as well as those of Italian and German ancestry will testify about their experiences under oath. This testimonial event will provide historical information, personal testimonies and community opinions to the public and members of Congress. [Becerra was one of the speakers at this event.]

“Campaign for Justice has been a leading driving force behind this event with Japanese American Citizens League, which has reaffirmed its support for the ongoing redress efforts …

“Let us renew our resolve to build a better future for our community as we dedicate ourselves to remembering how we compromised liberty in the past. Doing so will help us to guard it more closely in the future. As we commemorate the Day of Remembrance, I look forward to working with my colleagues to pass the Wartime Parity and Justice Act of 2005.”

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