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Lawyer Dale Minami shares his experiences of leading the legal team that challenged cases of Japanese-American internment during the JACL Day of Remembrance event on Feb. 21 at the University of Denver. (Photo by Joe Nguyen/AsiaXpress.com)

 

Dale Minami speaks at Day of Remembrance in Denver

Lawyer who led legal team challenging Japanese-American internment cases shares stories

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DENVER – Lawyer Dale Minami shared his experiences of leading the legal team that challenged cases of Japanese-American internment during the Day of Remembrance event on Feb. 21 at the University of Denver.

 

The Day of Remembrance, co-sponsored by the MileHi Japanese American Citizens League and the University of Denver, signifies the anniversary of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's signing of Executive Order 9066 on Feb. 19, 1942. The order forced approximately 120,000 Japanese Americans to relocate from their homes and move into internment camps.

 

"What happened to Japanese Americans was unjustified," Minami said. "It was propelled by racism, and that Japanese Americans were not guilty of the espionage and sabotage that was implied in the 1943-44 cases."

 

Minami led the legal team that challenged internment cases before the Supreme Court, the most prominent being Korematsu v. United States. In 1942, U.S.-born Japanese-American Fred Korematsu defied EO 9066 and stayed in his hometown of San Leandro, Calif., saying the order violated his Fifth Amendment by forcing him to leave without a trial. Two years later, the Supreme Court ruled that EO 9066 was constitutional.

 

In May 1982, Minami said, Peter Irons, a professor at the University of California at San Diego, had contacted him with information that would help overturn the conviction.

 

"The evidence they had found was information the government had in their possession," Minami said. "That Japanese Americans were not a danger to this country, that they were not disloyal en masse. ... There was no evidence of espionage or sabotage on record."

 

The case was overturned in 1984, but Minami said he wonders what resulted from the it and the redress movement.

 

"In the afterglow of that stirring victory, I wonder what things we have really accomplished, what things have we changed?" he said. "Have we changed the laws so that this type of civil-rights disaster never happens again? Have we learned lessons about racism, about justice?"

 

Ultimately, he said, the lessons left behind for future generations is important.

 

"If there's any legacy of redress, it's the legacy of education," he said.

 

It is a sentiment shared by a former internee who shared her story with former MileHi JACL President Mark Shimoda.

 

"What should the JACL do with the internment, this type of history? And she said, 'I can forgive the experience, I can forgive being put into the camps,'" Shimoda said, "but she says, 'I can't forget.'"

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