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V. Repeal of the Emergency Detention Act: Prohibiting Preventive Detention

In the late 1960s, American society undertook another major change in its identity, particularly surrounding the issue of loyalty. As the Civil Rights movement radicalized and anti-war demonstrations spread on college campuses and streets, the conformist notion of loyalty was replaced by a more critical concept of citizenship as political activities, as in Bosniak's definition. A greater number of people started to think that citizens who love their country should oppose unjust government policies. Strong public opposition to the government's foreign policies and widespread demand for a more egalitarian relationship between different groups encouraged the nation as a whole to imagine a more inclusive society, accepting people from diverse races, genders, cultures, sexual orientations, and political ideologies. In the midst of this overall societal change, the concentration camp law once again came to attract the public's attention.

The public anxiety about concentration camps started as a rumor circulated in African American and radical activist student communities that the government was planning to round up African Americans and radical students to detain them in camps. The source of this rumor was a sixty-page booklet titled, Concentration Camps, U.S.A., published in 1966 by a freelance journalist, Charles R. Allen, Jr. Allen toured the former detention camp sites and found that three of them were in the state of immediate stand-by, while others had changed ownership but were still maintained as potential detention camps. He reported that the total known estimated capacity of detention centers in the United States was 26,500.

Interest in Title II, however, did not spread beyond African American and radical student communities until an “unexpected non-left source” started an organized campaign to repeal the law. Japanese Americans, especially radical Sansei (third generation), took up the issue of the concentration camp law as their political agenda. The Asian American Political Alliance (AAPA), a student activist group comprised of Chinese and Japanese American students at San Francisco State University and the University of California, Berkeley, organized rallies on concentration camps along with African American and other minority students. They were involved in the campaign to free Huey P. Newton, co-founder of the Black Panther Party, who had been arrested of manslaughter, and felt +the impact of the government's stricter enforcement of law and order through violent and repressive measures. A few progressive Nisei also took interest in Title II. In July 1967, Raymond Okamura wrote to the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), suggesting that Japanese Americans should publicly oppose Title II; San Francisco-based college professor Edison Uno supported radical Asian American student activists on the concentration camp issue. Discussing Title II encouraged Sansei to inquire about their parents' wartime incarceration--a secret veiled in silence until then. It also encouraged Nisei to publicly narrate their experiences, which they had considered too shameful to talk about even within their families.

In 1968, activists within the Japanese American community, such as Okamura, Uno, and the AAPA members, succeeded in persuading the JACL to organize a public campaign to repeal Title II. At the grassroots level, the JACL National Ad Hoc Committee for Repeal of the Emergency Detention Act (hereinafter “Ad Hoc Committee”) conducted an educational campaign about Japanese American internment and Title II. Representatives from the Japanese American community organized meetings and also appeared in the media to talk about their experiences, warning the public of the possibility of concentration camps detaining innocent people. At the congressional level, Senator Daniel Inouye and Congressman Spark Matsunaga introduced Title II repeal bills. To coordinate community efforts towards the repeal campaign, the Ad Hoc Committee conducted a letter-writing campaign to urge members of Congress to support the repeal.

The Ad Hoc Committee's successful efforts became apparent during an eleven-day congressional public hearing by the House Internal Security Committee, held between March and September 1970. The hearing called for the repeal of Title II, supported by the testimony of not only members of Congress but also prominent political figures and representatives from various ethnic, political, and religious organizations. Delegates of the JACL testified on Japanese American internment, and so did some non-Japanese Americans who were involved in internment. Even the Justice Department suggested repeal.

With only limited support for the retention or amendment of Title II, mostly coming from former internal security officers, the overwhelming majority of witnesses supported the unconditional repeal of Title II. The vast racial and political diversity of witnesses demonstrated a successful campaign by the JACL Ad Hoc Committee. Almost no support for repealing a detention law that troubled political and African American radicals existed before Japanese Americans became involved in the campaign. After extensive hearings and congressional maneuvering, Congress, in September 1971, passed a law that not only repealed Title II but also prohibited “the establishment of emergency detention camps” and provided that “no citizen shall be imprisoned or otherwise detained by the United States except pursuant to an Act of Congress.” The concentration camp law ended its twenty-one-year life without ever being invoked.

The campaign to repeal Title II elucidated some important changes to the discursive American legal borderland. First of all, by representing themselves and being represented by others as “loyal American citizens” who had been wrongfully held in concentration camps, Japanese Americans tried to secure their position as first-class citizens of the United States both in terms of legal status and national identity. The campaign also provided an opportunity for other minority groups to address their own historical plights vis-à-vis the internment. In demanding for the removal of the concentration camp law, minorities and political dissenters could legitimately express concerns about the government's political repression. Concentration camps, symbolized as images of barbed-wire and watchtowers, became an icon of totalitarian society, an “un-American” regime. The Title II repeal campaign was a rare occasion when Americans from different racial, ethnic, religious, political, and historical backgrounds gathered and built a consensus that preventive detention was an unacceptable means to control internal security. Unlike the early 1950s, political dissenters could not be simply branded as “enemies of the state” and treated like aliens. It marked the end of the age of concentration camps, which started with the incarceration of Japanese Americans and concluded with the repeal of the concentration camp law. The intervention of former internees and their children was indispensable and appropriate for its ending.


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