STATEMENT OF DILLON S. MYER
IN SUPPORT OF H. R. 199
BEFORE A SPECIAL COMMITTEE OF THE
SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE, JULY 19, 1949
>From June of 1942 until July of 1946 it was my responsibility as Director of the War Relocation Authority to supervise the maintenance and operation of the relocation centers for the people of Japanese ancestry who were evacuated from the west coast, and the provision of assistance in the ultimate relocation of these evacuees. My comments concerning the legislation before this Committee grow out of that experience.
During the existence of the War Relocation Authority, those of us connected with it were in a position to experience the great complex of problems which resulted from the exclusion policy which was adopted in 1924; and in particular the serious results of the much older policy which prevented immigrants of Oriental ancestry from becoming citizens of the United States through the process of naturalization. This policy laid the basis for a series of discriminatory laws which were passed in certain of the Western States, including the so-called alien land laws which excluded anyone who was not eligible for American citizenship from owning land. These laws are nearly all phrased so that their provisions apply to "aliens ineligible for naturalization". Thus the Japanese alien, whose whole background and training may be agricultural, is prevented from engaging in farming except as a paid laborer despite the fact that he may have had one or more sons in the American armed forces who have given up their lives for their country.
To Japanese aliens, the ability to gain citizenship is much more than a matter of sentiment. Like aliens of other derivation, they are unable to secure licenses to practice in many of the professions. For example, all states require that attorneys be citizens, 22 have citizenship or declarations of intent as a requirement of architects, 9 of barbers, 48 of certified public accountants, 26 of dentists, 17 of funeral directors, 25 of physicians, and 18 of teachers. Unlike aliens of most other nationalities, however, the Japanese alien is unable to secure citizenship and thus is permanently barred from these occupations in certain areas.
Because of this policy relative to naturalization and the resulting discriminatory laws, the Japanese-American soldiers who fought as Americans in the last war could not, if they owned interest in lands in certain of the Western States, designate their alien fathers and mothers as beneficiaries in case of death because these alien parents were not eligible to own land. Consequently many of those young Americans of Japanese ancestry volunteered for service in the American Army, either for intelligence work in the Pacific or as members of the Four Hundred and Forty-second combat team, with the knowledge that their parents could not fall heir to any lands they might own, in case they were killed in battle. Japanese aliens in relocation centers, many of whom had lived in this country for 30 or 40 years or more, dared not swear allegiance to the United States during the period of war for fear of losing their Japanese citizenship, with full knowledge that they could not attain American citizenship under our laws. Many of these same aliens rendered outstanding and essential war services, and while doing so they recognized the possibility that they might be returned after the war to their native country because of the fact that they could not obtain American citizenship.
When the War Relocation Authority program was closed in 1946, my final report contained this sentence:
"Most of those who have been closely associated with the WRA program throughout its active life are deeply regretful that it ever had to be undertaken and fervently hopeful that it will never have to be repeated."This legislation would, I am sure, be instrumental in preventing a repetition.
In a very real sense, I believe the War Relocation Authority, which was brought into being after the decision to evacuate had been made, was a residual legatee of the racial bar to naturalization and of Oriental exclusion. I base this conclusion on two considerations.
The first is that Oriental exclusion destroyed the political base in Japan upon which friendship for America might have been maintained, a fact that has been stated most authoritatively by Joseph C. Grew, former Ambassador to Japan, and others with extensive experience in the Far East. Prior to 1924, there may have been opportunity for avoiding the road that led to Pearl Harbor by the use of a very minimum of tolerance and good sense without any suspicion of appeasement.
The second reason that I feel nationality and immigration law had a bearing on the evacuation lies in the long range effect these statutes had on public opinion.
For example, during the period when the evacuees were returning to California, one of our people was told that "Anyone can tell that there is something wrong with these people because they can't even own land in California."
Thus, Japanese Americans were caught in a vicious circle; because it was presumed they were not fit to own land, laws were passed prohibiting such ownership, and because they couldn't own land, they were considered unfit to become a part of the community.
The record of the earnestness with which the early Japanese immigrants attempted to integrate themselves into the American community has been painstakingly documented by competent students of such matters. But that record shows that after the 1924 exclusion act, the hope of final integration for themselves began to dim; efforts to avoid development of Japanese communities within the larger community began to slacken.
My experience leads me to believe that if there had been less separation between Japanese Americans and the total American community, if we had known these people before the war as well as we know them now, there would have been no question in 1942 about their loyalty, and the "military necessity" for evacuation would never have been broached. Thus an unfortunate law which ignored the inherent worth -- or lack of worth -- of the individual applicant for naturalization, contributed directly and fundamentally to that evacuation.
I should like to state for the record what I learned, while I was Director of the War Relocation Authority, about the persons of Japanese ancestry who are living in the United States. The wartime evacuation from the West coast came to them as a sudden and terrible blow. More than 100,000 persons -- men, women and children -- were suddenly asked to leave their homes, their jobs, and their schools, and to take up residence in temporary assembly centers, and later in relocation centers, all under military guard. The War Relocation Authority called upon the evacuees to cooperate with the United States Government in this undertaking, and the evacuees responded magnificently. There were, of course, a few disturbances, both in the assembly centers and in the relocation centers, but the overwhelming majority of the evacuees accepted the burden that their Government asked them to carry, and complied peacefully with the requirements laid upon them. I am frank to state that the War Relocation Authority owes much of its success in the peaceful maintenance of the relocation centers, and in the subsequent relocation of the entire population of the centers, to the patient and loyal cooperation of the evacuees with their Government.
During my four years in office, I visited the centers very frequently and I came to know these people rather well. I was impressed, as almost all other observers have been, with the thorough-going Americanism of the majority of the Nisei, who were born in the United States. They very fully demonstrated their loyalty in their exploits of this country's fighting forces. In addition, I unhesitatingly express my confidence that the Japanese aliens in this country are, in general, a hard-working, well-disciplined and law abiding group of people.
Happily, the record of the Nisei in combat and the last phase of the War Relocation program, during which the relocation centers were emptied by the free movement of the people to all parts of the country, demonstrated that there was no cloud on their Americanism.
When the evacuees first began leaving the centers in significant numbers during the spring of 1943 -- at the same time when popular feeling against them was reaching its nation-wide peak -- the resident of many midwestern cities and farming communities had their first real chance to see and know the American people of Japanese descent through first-hand contact. The results of those contacts were not manifested immediately, but gradually the feeling grew and spread that here were no Emperor-worshiping fanatics but a group of decent, well-behaved, sincere human beings, trying hard to make a satisfactory adjustment and facing many of the same problems as all other Americans.
Once this seed was planted it grew rapidly, nourished by a gradual relaxation of the most acute fears and tensions of the early war period and by the news of Nisei combat accomplishments in the hills of southern Italy and the Vosgos Mountains of east-central France. Eventually, a more aroused attitude developed in many quarters -- a tendency to ask why these people should have been dispossessed in the first place and to insist that they be accorded fair and proper treatment. Those persons of Japanese descent became dispersed to the far corners of the country, and they learned that there was more to America than the western coastal strip, while other Americans were learning that the Nisei and their parents made good neighbors.
That dispersal was not an excuse for the evacuation, but it is a direct by-product of the evacuation and the relocation program. And that dispersal was healthy for the nation and for the Nisei. It meant that the Nisei learned the vastness of his country. He discovered the economy, the policies, the culture, the attitudes of the Midwest, the South, and the East. He took his place in many pursuits and many surroundings foreign to the familiar Western States.
That dispersal meant that the Nisei -- and it was because of the rude shock of evacuation -- grew up within a few short months. The dutiful son became a responsible adult. The Nisei became an individual; a mature self confident, tax-paying man who depended upon his own decisions. It is demonstrably true that the engineering graduate moved from the produce bench in California to a relocation center in Arkansas to a drafting table in Boston.
But it remains true, in spite of this favorably by-product of a harsh experience, that the citizenship of those who were born in America is tainted by the inability of their parents to become naturalized, and that both the economic status and the pride of the older generation is subverted from the same cause.
I feel that is is deeply important, not only for the welfare of this group, but for the welfare of our country, that we should lift this burden. By so doing we shall demonstrate our democracy and at the same time confirm their outward march into the general society at a period most favorable for bringing about a higher degree of integration.
The legislation under consideration should, in my opinion, be passed. A great democracy such as ours should not continue to deny minimum quotas for immigration to any nation or area, based upon consideration of race. I further believe that anyone who is allowed to live permanently in the United States should be allowed the opportunity to qualify as a United States citizen in order, on the one hand, to avoid the many complex problems which the present policy has made evident throughout the years, and on the other, to require his assumption of the obligations of citizenship placed on others who permanently live here. These problems are not only problems of the individuals affected, but they are problems which affect the country as a whole.
I feel confident that those who could qualify would be credit to their citizenship if the privilege of naturalization were extended to him.
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