What are Internment1 and Relocation?

In discussing the war related domestic policies adopted by the United States during World War II, it is important to know that internment is historically different and legally distinct from relocation.

Internment is a well respected and long established component of international law. It permits a country to intern those aliens residing in its territory who are subjects or nationals of any country with which the former is at war.

Internment is part of U.S. law, (July 6, c. 66, I Stat; R.S. 4067; 50 U.S. Code 21), and is based on the “Enemy Alien Act of 1798”. The constitutionality of internment was twice reaffirmed by the Supreme Court of the United States shortly after the end of WWII in “Ludecke v. Watkins” (335 U.S. 160, 171 nl8 --1948) and “Johnson v. Eisentrager” (339 U.S. 763 --1950).

Internment began on December 7, 1941 after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. By 7:30 am December 9, 1941, the U.S. government had already interned 1,291 Japanese, 857 Germans, and 147 Italians. While the U.S. was at war with Japan since December 7th and could lawfully intern Japanese nationals as enemy aliens, the U.S. was not at war with Germany or Italy until December 11th. During those four days, December 7th through December 10th, German and Italian nationals were not enemy aliens and their internment was illegal. The total number of people interned during World War II was 31,275.

This number includes 5,620 Japanese who were renunciants -- i.e., native-born U.S. citizens of Japanese ancestry who renounced their U.S. citizenship so they could be deported to Japan and help that country’s war effort. The U.S. government lists no European-Americans who similarly renounced their U.S. citizenship.

The total number of non-renunciants -- i.e., enemy aliens -- interned was 25,655. Of this number 14,426, or 56 percent, were of European origin -- Germans, Italians, Hungarians, Romanians, Bulgarians, even some Czechs and Poles.

Only 16,849 Japanese -- 11,229 enemy aliens and 5,620 who renounced their U.S. citizenship -- were interned.

Internees had been apprehended by the FBI, and after hearings before the alien enemy control boards were held for the duration of the war and longer or for deportation to their country of origin. They were detained in Department of Justice internment facilities administered by the U.S. Army or the Immigration and Naturalization Service of the Department of Justice. Internees were not free to leave these facilities unless paroled by the Department of Justice. Some Europeans remained interned until 1948 -- more than three years after the war in Europe had ended.

Relocation was based on Executive Order 9066 issued by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt on February 19, 1942. It directed “the Secretary of War, and the Military commanders whom he may from time to time designate, whenever he or any designated Commander deems such action necessary or desirable, to prescribe military areas in such places and of such extent as he or the appropriate Military Commander may determine, from which any or all persons may be excluded, and with respect to which, the right of any person to enter, remain in, or leave shall be subject to whatever restrictions the Secretary of War or the appropriate Military Commander may impose in his discretion”. The East Coast, West Coast, Gulf Coast, and the Great Lakes were all subject to this policy.

The constitutionality of exclusion was upheld by the Supreme Court of the United States in 1944 in “Korematsu v. the United States of America” (323 U.S. 214-248, Oct. 1944 Term).

At the time of Pearl Harbor, there were approximately 127,000 persons of Japanese descent living in the United States. Almost 60 percent of the adults among them were Japanese nationals, enemy aliens by law. The remaining 40 percent of the adults were American by birth, but they were also citizens of Japan by choice (dual citizenship). Many had spent the formative years of their youth and received their education in Japan.

Early in 1942, all persons of Japanese descent, approximately 112,000 people, as well as smaller numbers of German and Italian enemy aliens were ordered to evacuate specific West Coast military areas in the interest of national security. Similar evacuations of German and Italian enemy aliens occurred along the entire East Coast. It was only out West that the U.S. government provided relocation centers as a temporary alternative to resettlement for those who wished it. Such housing was restricted to Japanese evacuees only, however. German and Italian evacuees were on their own. Ten such centers were established and administered by the civilian War Relocation Authority. These relocation centers had the highest live-birth rate and the lowest death rate in wartime United States and were exempt from the rationing programs imposed across the country.

Residents of such centers were free to leave when outside employment and living arrangements for them could be obtained. Of the 112,000 Japanese evacuees, 15,000 were immediately able to relocate elsewhere on their own. Another 35,000 who did enter the relocation centers eventually left and resettled in other parts of the country as employment or college opportunities arose during the war years. In some instances, Japanese living outside the exclusionary zone sought and received admittance to these centers.

The exclusion policy for the West Coast differed from that pursued elsewhere in the country because, in addition to the relocation centers, it also included a National Student Council Relocation Program. Under this government initiative, 4,300 students of Japanese ancestry -- but not those of German and Italian ancestry -- received scholarships to attend more than 500 colleges and universities located outside the exclusionary zone. In both cases of internment and relocation, U.S. citizen spouses and children were permitted to accompany head-of-household enemy aliens into relocation centers or internment camps on a voluntary basis so that families would not be separated.

1For the most part internment as used within this web site[foitimes.com] and this page pertains to the incarceration of "permanent resident aliens" and the "voluntary" interment  of citizens of the United States. However, as early as December 1939  German Seamen from the German Flagship, SS Columbus, were interned in the United States; then during early 1941 German seamen of U.S. Flagships, such as the S.S. Clio a Standard Oil Company Tanker, were also interned.


Joseph E. Fallon
William Hopwood
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