California apologizes for role in internment of Japanese Americans during WWII

California lawmakers on Thursday unanimously passed a resolution formally apologizing for its role in sending 120,000 Japanese Americans to internment camps during World War II.

The Assembly welcomed several people who were imprisoned in the camps and their families. Several lawmakers gave somber statements and gathered at the entrance of the chamber after the vote to hug and shake hands with victims.

In this photo taken Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020, Les Ouchida holds a 1943 photo of himself, front row, center, and his siblings taken at the internment camp his family was moved to, as he poses at the permanent exhibit titled "UpRooted Japanese Americans in World War II" at the California Museum in Sacramento, Calif.

In this photo taken Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020, Les Ouchida holds a 1943 photo of himself, front row, center, and his siblings taken at the internment camp his family was moved to, as he poses at the permanent exhibit titled "UpRooted Japanese Americans in World War II" at the California Museum in Sacramento, Calif. (AP)

The resolution came a day after Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a Day of Remembrance to mark when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order in 1942 that led to the imprisonment of Japanese Americans across 10 camps in the U.S. West and Arkansas.

Two camps in the mid-1940s were in California: Manzanar on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada and Tule Lake near the Oregon state line.

"During the years leading up to World War II, California led the nation in fanning the flames of racism," said Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, who was born in Japan.

Today, California has the largest population of people of Japanese descent of any state, numbering roughly 430,000.

Thursday’s resolution said anti-Japanese sentiment began in California as early as 1913, when the state passed the Alien Land Law, targeting Japanese farmers.

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"We are specifically apologizing for wrongs that were committed on this floor," Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon said in the chamber. "We are apologizing for what we have done."

Senators will take up a version of the resolution later in the year and send it to the governor to sign.

A congressional commission in 1983 concluded that the detentions were a result of "racial prejudice, war hysteria and failure of political leadership." Five years later, the U.S. government formally apologized and paid $20,000 in reparations to each victim.

Several California lawmakers noted the state's direct role in discriminating against Japanese Americans and carrying out the federal government's order to send residents to internment camps.

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While the Senate didn't vote on the resolution Thursday, state Sen. Richard Pan introduced two sons of Norman Yoshio Mineta, the first Asian American to serve in a presidential cabinet under George W. Bush.

Pan wrote the Senate version of the resolution, which he intends to pursue after it clears a committee later this year.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.