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World - Americas

U.S. to pay Japanese Latin Americans held during WWII

Graphic

Clinton apologizes for 'prejudice,' 'wartime hysteria'

June 12, 1998
Web posted at: 9:27 p.m. EDT (0127 GMT)

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- The U.S. Justice Department announced Friday that it would formally apologize to more than 2,200 people of Japanese ancestry who were forcibly removed from Latin American countries and interned in the United States during World War II.

And under the lawsuit settlement announced Friday, surviving internees can receive $5,000 each in compensation. About 600 already have made claims for reparations, and government officials believe perhaps as many as 700 more are also eligible.

Japanese reparations
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"I offer a sincere apology for the actions that unfairly denied you fundamental liberties during World War II," reads a letter of apology from President Clinton, which was released at a news conference in Los Angeles Friday.

"We understand that our nation's actions were rooted in racial prejudice and wartime hysteria, and we must learn from the past and dedicate ourselves as a nation to renewing and strengthening equality, justice and freedom," Clinton wrote.

"It has been very difficult to relive the horrible memory that we have been trying to forget, but I feel that for this cause, reliving this pain was worth it," said Carmen Mochizuki, one of those interned. "I feel a sense of closure and peace from the process."

Internees exchanged for Americans held by Japan

The U.S. government has never officially explained why 2,200 Latin Americans -- about 80 percent of them from Peru -- were taken from their homes and brought to the United States. However, it acknowledges that part of the motivation was to exchange them for American citizens being held by Japan.

An estimated 800 detainees were forcibly sent to Japan. Of the rest, 271 stayed in the United States after the war and became U.S. citizens. The rest returned to Latin America or post-war Japan.

During the war years, the government also detained U.S. citizens of Japanese descent living on the West Coast and sent them to internment camps further inland. Under a 1988 law, those surviving internees were given $20,000 in compensation and an apology.

In 1996, a class action suit was filed on behalf of the internees from Latin America, asking for equal treatment under the 1988 law. Some of them expressed unhappiness Friday that the settlement will provide them with less money than the amount received by U.S. citizens of Japanese descent.

"I can't say that it was a fair settlement," said Alicia Nishimoto, who was taken from her home in Peru and interned in the Texas desert. "I would be lying if I said I am very happy today. I wanted to get equal justice."

But Bill Lann Lee, the Justice Department's civil rights chief, said he believes the settlement is fair.

"The United States government is doing the right thing -- acknowledging a wrong and bringing closure to the uncertainties of litigation," he said.

Under the settlement, which has been approved by a federal judge, all of the Latin-American internees who are still alive, and the heirs of those who have died since the reparations bill became law in 1988, can file a claim to receive compensation. Claims must be filed by August 10.

Correspondent Jim Hill and Reuters contributed to this report.

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