Six Sue for Redress
"My father first came here in 1928, and has lived in the United States since 1937. He married my mother, an American citizen, in 1939. I was born in San Francisco in 1940, and in 1942 we were sent to camp," the younger Kato said. "Our entire family filed for redress and everyone got it except for my father, who has been a permanent resident since 1958."
Kay Kato, who became a U.S. citizen in 1980, has been fighting for redress since 1989 but was denied redress by ORA because he was neither a U.S. citizen nor a legal permanent resident alien during World War II, explained Los Angeles attorney Mills.
Since the war, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) has investigated his background and activities and adjusted his status to that of a permanent resident alien "just as though he had maintained his lawful status throughout the war," Douglas Kato said.
"My father doesn't say much, but you could see he's kinda sad because everybody else in the family got redress," the younger Kato commented. "He feels like he was wronged."
The Oguras, Latin American residents of Japanese descent abducted by the U.S. for use in hostage exchange negotia- tions and interned at Crystal City, Texas, in 1943-1944, are now living in Okinawa, where they were forced to relocate in 1945.
The Oguras were denied redress because they left the United States in December 1945 and because the INS categorized them as "illegal aliens."
Grace Shimizu of the Campaign for Justice, speaking for the Oguras, said the family was "abducted from Peru ... and used in a hostage exchange program—an ethnic cleansing scheme orchestrated by the United States."
The U.S. government committed war crimes against civilians and violated their human rights, Shimizu charged. "The U.S. continues not to give redress to the Japanese Latin Americans ... and has concocted the lie that they were illegal aliens."
Shimizu contended that the U.S. government developed its hostage exchange plan before Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, and "continues its racist policy by not giving redress" to the Oguras and other Japanese Latin American internees who were denied on technicalities.
"What the Japanese Latin Americans went through was even worse than Japanese Americans," said Shimizu, whose father, now 93, and uncle and their families were brought against their will to this country and interned at Crystal City.
"We hope that, at the minimum, they would get equal treatment (as the Japanese American internees). And it would be up to the courts or the
legislatures to deem whether that token compensation was commensurate with the gravity of the situation they were subjected to."
Paul Mills, the Los Angeles civil rights attorney bringing the lawsuit and one of the advocates for the Japanese Latin American internees in the Mochizuki case, said this complaint might underscore the unfairness of the treatment received by all internees, regardless of citizenship status.
"Plaintiffs are seeking money damages for the harm done to them by the U.S. government in seizing and imprisoning them only because of their race," Mills stated.
"I would guess a jury would award millions of dollars. I would suspect if the government was to admit it was wrong and pay token the $20,000 in reparations, (the plaintiffs) would drop the lawsuit," Mills added.
Among those showing support for the lawsuit at the internees' press conference in Los Angeles were Rep. Xavier Becerra; Richard Katsuda, president of the Los Angeles chapter of the National Coalition for Redress and Reparations (NCRR), which has its own legal action (NCRR v. U.S.) pending against the government for mismanagement of the congressional redress funds; and Fred Okrand, legal director emeritus of the ACLU and a lawyer for the Japanese Latin American former internees in their lawsuit (Mochizuki v. U.S.) that was settled with the government, resulting in a presidential apology and $5,000 in individual redress payments as long as the redress funds remained.
Rep. Becerra stated his support for fair redress to all deserving internees, without limitation on such technical grounds, adding that he regards the unfulfilled promise of redress an important issue.
"It's hard to believe that our government would be so callous in dealing with human beings .... Unfortunately, they are treating this as if it is a technicality," said Becerra, who has been working for two years with people trying to obtain redress for Japanese Latin Americans.
"I hope to draw up legislation in the House of Represent- atives that will do what the litigation hopes to do without having to go through the courts," Becerra announced. "Litigation is emotionally draining. Perhaps with legislation we can remedy this issue, by amending the Civil Liberties Act."
Katsuda said the NCRR considers this "a major component of unfinished business of the Civil Liberties Act. We hope to work with Rep. Becerra on the legislation he talked about where we can take care of as much of this as possible .... We're pretty hopeful."
If there's a legislative effort, Katsuda said "it could well be" that NCRR will have to mobilize a lot of people for a lobbying campaign just as they did with great success in the 1980s.
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