Most Japanese Americans were held in War Relocation Authority (WRA) concentration camps, but several thousand were confined in Department of Justice (DOJ) camps run by the department's Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). On the continent the day after Pearl Harbor, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) apprehended 1,212 Japanese and 559 German and Italian “enemy aliens” who fell under the jurisdiction of the DOJ. Both the FBI and INS were at the time within the DOJ. By March 1942, the INS held over 4,000 “enemy aliens” in its internment camps mainly in Fort Missoula, Montana and Fort Lincoln, North Dakota. In addition, the U.S. government pressured Mexico, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru to hand over 2,264 of their Japanese to the United States. Germans and Italians were also among those expelled. Those also fell under the authority of the DOJ and were placed in its INS camps. The United States intended to use the Japanese as hostages in exchange for its prisoners of war held by Japan in the Pacific conflict.
The “enemy aliens” or those residing in the United States were first held in temporary detention centers scattered throughout the country, from Ellis Island in New York harbor to Angel Island in San Francisco Bay. Others included detention centers in San Pedro, Sharp Park, and Tuna Canyon, California and detention centers in Seattle, Cincinnati, and Boston. In all the DOJ maintained nine permanent internment camps and 18 temporary detention centers. In addition to the Japanese, German, and Italian “enemy aliens” were confined and interrogated about their sympathies for or ties to Nazi and Fascist organizations. At the Ellis Island immigration station, for instance, there were 279 Japanese, 248 Germans, and 81 Italians under custody in December 1941. The U.S. Army used a portion of the abandoned immigrant detention center on Angel Island together with other internment camps to confine and interrogate its Japanese and German prisoners of war.
There were eight DOJ camps for Japanese Americans, three in Texas (Crystal City, Kenedy, and Seagoville), two in New Mexico (Fort Stanton and Santa Fe), and one each in Idaho (Kooskia), Montana (Fort Missoula), and North Dakota (Fort Lincoln). Generally, the DOJ separated men from women, except for the internment camps in Crystal City and Seagoville, Texas, which held families and single women. The DOJ deployed its INS Border Patrol guards to patrol its internment camps.
As early as September 1939, the FBI drew up lists of suspicious or “disloyal” aliens to be taken into custody in the event of war, classifying them into A, B, or C based upon the supposed degree of danger they posed. On June 28, 1940, Congress passed the Alien Registration or Smith Act, which required every alien over 14 years old to register and have their fingerprints taken by the government. By the end of that year, the DOJ maintained the registrations of nearly five million resident aliens. The government's authority over enemy aliens allowed it to arrest and confine them without due process or charges and a jury trial. Instead, Alien Enemy Hearing Boards, consisting of three civilian members, determined the fate of those arrested by the FBI. They were presumed to be guilty unless proven innocent. Those were the bases for the World War II “enemy aliens” program.
Besides German and Italian “enemy aliens” or those living in the United States, the government held nonresident German and Italian nationals even before the United States declared war on Germany and Italy. During World War II in Europe but before the United States entered the war, German and Italian seamen caught in U.S. waters or stranded in U.S. ports fell into the DOJ alien registration and detention program. In 1939, the United States held the German crew of a ship abandoned off the coast of Cuba as “distressed seamen paroled from the German Embassy.” Those unfortunate civilians were sent, after FBI investigations and alien board hearings, to DOJ camps like Fort Lincoln and Fort Stanton.
Several shiploads of “enemy aliens” made the transit from Latin America to the United States. The first, the Etolin, reveals the process. Sailing from Callao, Peru, on April 5, 1942, with 173 Germans, 141 Japanese, and 11 Italians, all men, the Etolin made its way up the Pacific coast. Following instructions from the United States, Peru had made no charges against them, gave them no hearings, confiscated their passports, and issued them no visas. In Ecuador, the Etolin picked up 38 Germans and 10 Japanese, in Colombia, 149 Germans, and 3 Italians. When the ship landed in San Francisco, the INS informed the men that they were entering the United States illegally because they had no passports or visas. Of course, the U.S. government had schemed to set that trap. They were thus placed within INS custody, and taken by train to the DOJ internment camps in Texas. Later shipments included families, men, women, and children.
Over 80 percent of the Japanese from Mexico, Panama, and Latin America were from Peru. The United States interned approximately 1,800 Japanese Peruvians, all of them in Texas at Crystal City, Kenedy, and Seagoville. Japanese had been living in Peru since 1899 when the first boatload of labor recruits arrived in Callao. As migrant laborers, they contributed to the country's agricultural development, but after World War II Peru refused to accept them back. In the United States, they were “illegal immigrants” who could not be released from DOJ custody. After the war, between November 1945 and June 1946, nearly 100 returned to Peru because they were married to Peruvians or had Peruvian citizenship, while 750 were shipped to Japan. As the fate of the rest was being determined, the Peruvians remained in Crystal City until August 1946 when they
were given jobs at Seabrook Farms in New Jersey. Many other Japanese Americans had gone before them from the WRA camps to Seabrook Farms, which was a transition center, like a halfway house, from complete confinement to freedom.
Key to that release as “restricted parolees” into “relaxed internment” was San Francisco civil rights attorney Wayne M. Collins who fought for the reinstatement of the enunciates to U.S. citizenship. During a visit to Crystal City to consult with some of his clients, Collins was told about the situation of the Peruvian Japanese. On June 25, 1946, Collins filed in San Francisco a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of the 364 Japanese Peruvians. The federal circuit court accited his petition, and thereby allowed the 364 to remain in the United States provided they had employment guarantees, which the Seabrook Farms, partially enclosed with a high, chain-link fence, supplied. German prisoners of war supplied the labor for Seabrook's frozen food plant, and by September 1946, Seabrook employed about 3,000 workers, most of them Japanese and African Americans.
Originally a Farm Security Administration migrant labor camp for 2,000 people, the DOJ expanded the Crystal City camp to hold 3,500 and placed a fence and guard towers to secure the 290-acre grounds. Before the first Japanese Americans arrived in March 1943, Crystal City held 35 German and one Italian aliens and their families temporarily until the facilities intended for them were built. For a time, the Germans overlapped with the Japanese, and the camp was divided into two sections for those two groups. At its peak, there were approximately 4,000 women, men, and children in Crystal City, two-thirds of that total were Japanese Americans with about 660 from Peru and 600 from Hawai'i.
Peruvian businessman Seiichi Higashide left behind his wife and five children to board the U.S.S. Cuba in March 1944 for Panama. Other Japanese Peruvians and many Germans and several Italian families were also among the ship's passengers. The men were kept below deck separated from their families. After passing through the Panama Canal and stops in Panama and Cuba, the Cuba docked in New Orleans. The INS greeted the men, had them shower, and baptized them with DDT powder, an insecticide but also cancer-producing. So much DDT was sprinkled over the men that “brushing out our white powdered hair and putting on clothes, we looked as though we had climbed out of a flour bin.” The INS then put nametags on each, and put them on a train. On board, the men rejoined their families (Higashide, 157).
Single men, including Higashide, were deposited in Kenedy, which was small but had the same features as the other internment camps with barbed wire and barracks. Other single men, Higashide noted, were sent to Santa Fe, and families to Crystal City. In June 1944, after a few months in Kenedy, Higashide rejoined his family in Crystal City, which, he observed, was much larger than Kenedy. In Crystal City, Japanese, Germans, and Italians from Central and South America
lived together but in their own sections with Japanese from Hawai'i and single, Japanese Americans from the WRA concentration camps. A hospital, post office, schools, churches, and stores served the confined people, and there were a baseball field, volleyball and tennis courts, and a swimming pool. Although a town, wrote Higashide, Crystal City, with its barbed wire fence, still made its people feel like “birds in a cage” because they had to make “incalculable material and spiritual sacrifices before being forced into it [the camp] against their will” (Higashide, 166, 168).
As the war ended and the WRA concentration camps and DOJ camps began to close, Crystal City became a major site for those transfers from other camps. From Santa Fe and other camps came Japanese Peruvians, people without a country, to await their final disposition. In March 1946 when Tule Lake concentration camp closed, the approximately 400 renunciants from that camp were sent to Crystal City. In late 1947, with the final departure of the Japanese Peruvians, the camp closed. A monument erected in 1985 and dedicated to “the sons, daughters, and friends of the families who were interned in this camp” refers to the DOJ camp at Crystal City as a World War II concentration camp.
Often called Bismarck after the town five miles south, Fort Lincoln was built by the U.S. Army in the early 20th century, and during the 1930s served as the headquarters of North Dakota's Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). During World War II, buildings were added and a fence erected to imprison mainly German seamen who were stranded in U.S. waters and ports, starting in 1939 when the war in Europe began. Japanese Americans arrived in 1942, but they were transferred, leaving the camp to German internees until February 1945 when 650 Japanese Americans were sent to Fort Lincoln. These were the so-called troublemakers from Tule Lake and Santa Fe and renunciants who asked for repatriation to Japan after the war's end.
Iwato Itow was one of those classed as a troublemaker at Tule Lake. After spending about 10 months in Poston concentration camp where, he said, he was “a nervous guy” wasting his life away, Itow received a permit to work in Cleveland at a factory making parts of military equipment. But after about five months, the WRA recalled him, and sent him to Tule Lake concentration camp. There he joined a Japanese group that performed morning exercises to keep in shape but which the WRA considered to be nationalistic and “pro-Japan.” As a member of that group, Itow recalled, he got up “early in the morning and made those noises, exercise you know. So they got tired of that and sent us to Bismarck, North Dakota. Guess I was identified as pro-Japan and a militant” (Tateishi, 144).
At Fort Lincoln, according to Itow, “nobody made any trouble there, and everybody was quiet. It was all fenced in and we could move around, but our letters were censored. Some of my friends wrote me a letter; it was all cut out.” When the sun came out in the spring, men sunbathed because there was nothing to do. They merely shuttled between their barracks and the mess hall. Interrogators tried to
determine if he entertained Japanese loyalties, and the government eventually sent Itow, a U.S. citizen, to Japan. He later returned to his native land, but remains “bitter” because of how the United States treated Japanese Americans during the war and the lost opportunities. “I am still bitter about that, and I don't think I'll ever forget …” (Tateishi, 145).
Located adjacent to the town of Missoula, Montana, Fort Missoula was built in 1877 for U.S. Army troops in their conquest of the Flathead Indians. During World War I, the fort was a military training ground, and in the 1930s the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) took over the camp. The DOJ took control of the property in 1941, and converted it into an internment camp for Italian nationals, mostly seamen, and Italian and Japanese resident aliens. The Italians arrived first in the spring of 1941, and the Japanese, in December. By April 1942, there were approximately equal numbers of Italian and Japanese men among the total of 2,003 in Fort Missoula.
The internment camp consisted of 30 army-style wooden barracks, each accommodating up to 38 men. Cots lined the barracks walls, and the men received two woolen blankets, a comforter, a pillow, and sheets. The camp also had a mess hall, kitchen, assembly hall, storehouse, and canteen. Surrounding the camp was a barbed wire fence, floodlights for surveillance, and a guardhouse at the front, gate. A fence separated the Italians from the Japanese. Outside the camp was a hospital with a pharmacy and dental office that served the Italians and Japanese.
Fort Missoula served principally as a holding pen for Japanese Americans. There, the men were given cursory hearings after which most were transferred to other internment camps or to the WRA concentration camps. Several died soon after their arrival, a few “volunteered” to work on local farms, and by the end of 1942 there were only 29 Japanese left in the camp while the numbers of Italians rose to over 1,200. In March 1944, 258 Japanese from Hawai'i entered Fort Missoula before being transferred to Santa Fe, New Mexico. In July 1944, the camp was officially closed.
Although they were not prisoners of war, the Japanese were interned enemy aliens who fell under the protections of the Geneva Convention of 1929, which guaranteed food, hygiene, health, and religious freedom while in captivity. They could be forced to maintain the camp without pay but other work must be voluntary and for a salary. In early 1942, the 633 Japanese complained the United States violated the Geneva terms by exacting compulsory labor and the guards subjecting them to verbal and physical abuse. Their spokesman, Taoka, alleged the Japanese were required to clean the stables of the Border Patrol's four horses and maintaining areas outside their living quarters, immigration officials kicked and beat several Japanese and withheld food to extract confessions, and being subjected to insulting treatment from Korean Japanese-language translators. Taoka was also threatened with solitary confinement if he continued to intervene on behalf of the
Japanese. After a DOJ investigation, two Border Patrol officers were fired and their superior was reassigned.
Alien enemy hearing boards, comprised of civilians, were set up to determine the fate of the Japanese. Most hearings required translators, including Korean and Japanese Americans and white missionaries, and they were usually superficial and arbitrary. Guilt by association was the practice, such as speaking Japanese, working for a Japanese firm, and membership in a Japanese American organization. In 1942, some 673 were “paroled” to assembly centers and concentration camps. The others were given over to the army custody. In April 1942, 346 left Fort Missoula by train for internment at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and in August, another 172 were sent to Camp Livingston, Louisiana.
A few Japanese chose to remain in INS-run Fort Missoula. A pharmacist, No-bunchy Tsutsumoto, who feared transfer to an army camp, led that group. He petitioned Fort Missoula's supervisor to allow the remaining Japanese, totaling 28, to stay if they supplied garden crops for the Italian kitchen. They would feed themselves and the Italians, and Tsutsumoto offered to undertake any work for the camp. The supervisor agreed, and the Japanese compound remained open until the camp's closing.
Iwao Matsushita arrived at Fort Missoula in December 1941. Despite a famous Montana blizzard and temperatures that dipped to 52 degrees below freezing, he wrote to his wife that he was comfortable thanks, in part, to the heavy underwear and ski clothes that she had packed for him in his suitcase. The food was excellent and plentiful, he reported, and, he gleefully noted, it included rice. At the same time, his typical weekly menu reveals an odd mixture of foods, such as on Monday, creamed potato and jam for breakfast, sandwich, lettuce, rice, and applesauce for lunch, and pork and beans, radish, salad, and raisins for dinner. By contrast and not mess hall fare, his friend shared sushi and sashimi with him one day, which Matsushita called his “taste of freedom” (Fiset, 115, 128).
To occupy his days, Matsushita wrote poetry, read the Readers Digest and New York Times, and like many others, gathered stones to polish and fashion into pendants. In the summer of 1942, the Japanese played against the Italians in a softball game that was “real fun” with the Japanese winning easily, 27 to 7, over an Italian team that “did not know the rules & made many errors.” But as the onset of winter approached and nearly a year apart, Matsushita grew anxious. “Your letters are overdue,” he scolded his wife. “Nor have I heard that you got my stones, so I'm a bit worried that you might have caught a cold…. The snow has started to fall in earnest…. I've learned to appreciate my past freedom” (Fiset, 158, 206).
On the anniversary of their separation, Matsushita informed his wife that the U.S. government had classified him, after his hearing, “potentially dangerous to the public safety.” He was, accordingly, sentenced to internment for the war's duration. “You'll probably be terribly disappointed having waited a lonely year with hopeful expectations, but please don't cry,” he urged. “Keep your chin up.” He planned to appeal the ruling, Matsushita told his wife. “The point is we need to be together as soon as possible.” It was not until January 1944, however, that
Matsushita was able to rejoin his wife, not in freedom, but in the Minidoka concentration camp where she was being held (Fiset, 213, 215).
A former army outpost in the U.S. war against the Apache nation and later, a tuberculosis sanatorium, Fort Stanton was in an isolated part of New Mexico 35 miles north of the town of Ruidoso. Before the United States entered World War II, the government used Fort Stanton's abandoned CCC camp to detain German seamen. But after nine unsuccessful escape attempts the DOJ converted Fort Stanton into an internment camp with barbed-wire fences and INS border patrol agents. After the war, the state used Fort Stanton as a minimum-security prison for women.
The camp's first internees were German seamen who had abandoned their ship off Cuba's coast in 1939, and were placed in the deserted CCC camp at Fort Stanton. When the DOJ converted Fort Stanton into an internment camp, it interned seaman from the German merchant ship, S.S. Columbus, which the men had scuttled off New Jersey in December 1939. Those seamen were interned at Ellis Island and then, across the continent on Angel Island, and in January 1941, 410 of them entered the camp at Fort Stanton. Later, the WRA established at Fort Stanton a Japanese Segregation Camp #1 for so-called troublemakers from WRA concentration camps, and by October 1945, Fort Stanton's segregation camp, like the WRA run isolation centers at Moab and Leupp, held 58 Japanese Americans.
Formerly a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp, Kenedy internment camp was the result of a lobbying effort by the adjacent Texas town of Kenedy. A high fence and watchtowers surrounded the camp, and Japanese worked in its 32-acre vegetable farm while Germans ran a slaughterhouse. The first contingent of 464 Germans, 156 Japanese, and 14 Italians from Central and South America arrived in April 1942. By 1943, there were about 2,000 internees, including over 700 Japanese. After the Japanese were transferred into other camps like Santa Fe, Kenedy became a camp for German prisoners of war in September 1944, and after July 1945, several hundred Japanese prisoners of war.
In Camp Kenedy, Seiichi Higashide wrote, “we were given food and clothing, and all of our basic, survival needs were met. We had more than enough free time and, indeed, passed much of our time aimlessly. All we could do was gather in small groups to engage in foolish conversation, gamble, or participate in sports to keep us from boredom.” Despite the government's name for the camp, relocation center, Higashide declared, “we simply perceived it as no more than a ‘concentration camp'” (Higashide, 158).
The camp's director instituted two roll calls daily, one at 9 A.M. and the other, at 4:30 P.M. when the siren sounded. Men were required to assemble, stand in line, and answer when their names were called. There were three, sometimes four bed checks each night, and mounted patrols augmented the guards at night. Touching
the perimeter barbed-wire fence activated an electric alarm, and there was just one escape attempt recorded during Kenedy's first 18 months. A devastating hurricane in August 1942 destroyed buildings, downed electric power lines, broke gas mains, and weakened many structures. The Germans, led by a ship captain, refused to help in the cleanup, knowing the terms of the Geneva Convention.
The Japanese were less informed and organized than the Germans who were young, understood English better, and were organized as seamen. Taiichi Onishi, a merchant from Lima, Peru, attempted suicide four times. He clearly needed help, which the INS felt incapable of providing. The War Department, despite experience handling mental illness among soldiers, refused to accept Onishi, so finally, the state of Texas admitted Onishi into one of its mental institutions. About the same time, Yukihiko Kobashigawa died of pulmonary tuberculosis.
Located in north-central Idaho, Kooskia was a remote highway construction camp 40 miles east of the town of Kooskia. Between May 1943 and May 1945, the Kooskia internment camp held 256 Japanese Americans, their interpreter, and 27 white civilian employees. At least 28 of the internees were from Peru and two from Mexico and two, from Panama. Most of the all-male Japanese Americans served as highway construction workers.
The INS recruited men from its camps like Fort Missoula and Kenedy where “volunteers” offered to work at Kooskia. In need of construction workers, the Public Roads Administration used Japanese internees to help build the Lewis and Clark Highway beginning in 1943. Men like Arturo Shinei Yakabi and his friend, Seiho Inamine, left Fort Missoula to work on drilling and blasting rock to clear the route for the highway. They, like the Chinese who helped build the transcontinental railroad in the 19th century, clambered over rocks and ridges held by ropes to drill holes for dynamite. For that arduous and hazardous labor, they were paid $55 per month. After four and a half months of that work, Yakabi, Inamine, and others from Fort Missoula were recalled for their transfer to Kenedy.
A second contingent, recruited from Kenedy and comprised of 17 from Peru, included men who were barbers, chauffeurs, cooks, restaurant workers, merchants, and mechanics. Others followed them, some serving several terms in Kooskia. Many of the men were transients between camps. Peruvian Samatsu Uema, for instance, spent his 33 months in confinement at Kenedy, Fort Missoula, Kooskia, and Santa Fe.
The DOJ acquired the Santa Fe camp from the New Mexico State Penitentiary that once included a CCC camp. At an elevation of 7,000 feet, the camp experienced mild temperatures in the summer but cold extremes and snow during winters. The DOJ expanded the camp, and by March 1942, Santa Fe internment camp had a capacity of 1,400. The first internees were 826 Japanese Americans, all men from California. The DOJ saw Santa Fe as a temporary place where five
Alien Enemy Hearing Boards considered the cases of the Japanese Americans. One of them died in Santa Fe, 523 were assigned to WRA concentration camps, and 302 were turned over to U.S. Army custody. The last Japanese American left Santa Fe in September 1942, and the camp was deactivated. After February 1943, the camp was expanded, and by June 1945 there were 2,100 Japanese American men in Santa Fe. Many were renunciants from Tule Lake and leaders of the camp's so-called pro-Japan faction, according to the WRA.
Santa Fe included the standard barracks, barbed-wire fence, and guard towers and searchlights at intervals. Mess halls, kitchens, a bakery, canteen, laundry room, recreation hall, library, and medical facilities dotted the camp. There were also gardens, a 19-acre farm, and a poultry farm. In December 1943, some 350 men threatened to petition Japan to forcibly separate families of U.S. prisoners of war if they were not reunited with their families in other DOJ and WRA camps. On November 10, 1945, there was only one unsuccessful escape attempt. Otomatsu Kimura scaled the perimeter fence, and when guards ordered him to get down, Kimura reportedly dared the guards to shoot him. He climbed the light pole to the top of the watchtower, and jumped to the road below, possibly fracturing his pelvis and vertebrae. Kimura was hospitalized.
The Tule Lake alleged troublemakers arrived in Santa Fe during and after the period of martial law at Tule Lake. Between December 1944 and March 1945, the army and WRA identified and removed the men they considered to be pro Japan to Fort Lincoln and Santa Fe. When the Santa Fe administrators attempted to expel a few of the leaders of the Tule Lake transfers to the isolation center at Fort Stanton on March 12, 1945, a crowd of about 250 gathered and demanded that they too be removed to Fort Stanton's Segregation Camp #1. The administration called upon the INS border guards, and then directed the Japanese Americans to disperse, which they refused. The guards fired tear gas into the crowd, and charged wielding clubs as the rioters threw stones at them. In about 10 minutes, the melee was over, and four Japanese Americans were hospitalized with injuries and 360 were confined to a stockade inside the Santa Fe camp.
The camp's population fell and rose with transfers during 1945 and 1946. Santa Fe's administrators removed over 17 alleged leaders to Fort Stanton, and in June 1945 a group of 399 arrived from Tule Lake. In November 1945, after Japan's surrender, 894 Japanese Americans left Santa Fe for Seattle and 330 more, in December. Those were destined for Japan. In March 1946, some 200 men from Fort Lincoln arrived, and in April, 135 were sent to Crystal City and 89, to Terminal Island, California for “repatriation” to Japan. By May 1946, only a dozen Japanese Americans remained in Santa Fe, and the camp closed shortly thereafter.
Located about 20 miles southeast of Dallas, Texas, the Seagoville camp was originally a DOJ prison for women. In 1942, the Bureau of Prisons transferred the prison to the INS, which converted it into an internment camp. In May 1942, Seagoville held 319 “enemy aliens,” mostly from Latin America, including 119
Japanese and the rest, Germans and Italians. For a while, the Bureau of Prisons maintained a presence in Seagoville where 15 women prisoners were held for several months along with the “enemy aliens.” The internment camp closed in June 1945, and after the war, Seagoville became a low-security prison for men.
Gary Y. Okihiro
Fiset, Louis. Imprisoned Apart: The World War II Correspondence of an Issei Couple Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1997.
Higashide, Seiichi. Adios to Tears: The Memoirs of a Japanese-Peruvian Internee in U.S. Concentration Camps. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2000.
Tateishi, John. And Justice for All: An Oral History of the Japanese American Detention Camps. New York: Random house, 1984.