This Day in the Law
February 19

Roosevelt Signs Executive Order to Relocate Japanese-Americans to Internment Camps (1942)

On February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 directing the War Department to remove "resident enemy aliens" from parts of the West coast vaguely described as "military areas." In particular, Roosevelt authorized the military to "relocate" around 120,000 Japanese (two-thirds of whom were native born U.S. citizens) to internment camps (also called relocation camps or military camps) in the states of California, Oregon, Washington, and Arizona.

In the aftermath of the bombing by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Roosevelt faced increasing pressure to deal with the nation’s worries about the possibility of further Japanese attacks. The west coast of the U.S. contained many vulnerable areas, such as naval ports, shipping areas, and agricultural locations, and Roosevelt saw a need to protect these areas.

Eleanor Roosevelt, a strong supporter of civil rights, argued with President Roosevelt to refrain from his actions against the Japanese-Americans, but President Roosevelt believed that he had to act in such a manner to win World War II.

Individuals like California Attorney General Earl Warren and General John DeWitt enforced Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066. Roosevelt’s Executive Order also affected a certain portion of German and Italian citizens and resident aliens living in America. For example, over 10,000 Germans and 3,000 Italians were arrested and many were placed into internment camps. The individuals placed into the internment camps were often treated harshly, separated from their families, and many lost jobs and businesses.

Finally, in 1988, President Ronald Reagan issued a public apology on behalf of the government’s actions against those individuals harmed by Executive Order 9066 and authorized reparations, i.e. payments, for individuals held in the internment camps or their descendants.