Shorter wait to reunite families

Rep. Mike Honda, Democrat of California

Rep. Mike Honda, Democrat of California

By Bert Eljera

LAS VEGAS – Two California legislators, both of Asian descent, have filed a bill that would make reuniting families as the anchor of immigration reform.

Reps. Judy Chu and Mike Honda, both California Democrats, introduced the Reuniting Families Act Thursday, Feb. 14, that aims to cut down the waiting time for family-based visa applications.

It also seeks to increase per-country limits on employment visa by 15% so that nations with a higher demand for workers can better equip the American economy with talent.

In addition, it would eliminate discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans and their foreign-born partners.

“As the largest group of new immigrants and the fastest growing racial group in the U.S., Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders must be heard during immigration reform,” said Chu, chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. “A solution that fails to address backlogs and continues to keep families separated is no solution at all.”

Honda, who was taken to an internment camp as a kid, said the country’s family-based immigration system has not been updated in 20 years, separating spouses, children and their parents, who have played by the rules for years.”

“My proposed legislation is in line with American family values and with our need to grow our economy and save taxpayer money, Honda said. “American workers with families by their side are happier, healthier and more able to succeed than those distanced from loved ones for years on end.”

Under their proposed legislation, the wait time for a family-based visa would be no more than 10 years, instead of the years that families have to wait to be reunited under current practices.

According to the National Visa Center, there are 4.3 million people on the waiting list for family visas.

Four of the top five countries with the biggest backlogs are Asian. These are the Philippines, India, Vietnam and Mainland China. Mexico has the most backlog.

The Reuniting Families Act reduces the backlog for families trying to reunite with their loved ones by classifying lawful permanent resident spouses and children as “immediate relatives” and exempting them from numerical caps on family immigration.


“I urge Congress to forge comprehensive immigration reform. For every day Congress delays, more families face separation,” Honda said.


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An immigrant’s story


(Editor’s Note: An op-ed piece by Jose Antonio Vargas written for the New York Times.)

WHEN I testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday about being an undocumented immigrant, my 75-year-old grandmother, Leonila Salinas, will be sitting behind me.

Lola (Filipino for “grandmother”) will be seated alongside my aunt Aida Rivera, a mother of five who works in accounting, and my uncle Conrad Salinas, who served in the United States Navy for 20 years. Like me, they were born in the Philippines. But unlike me, they are American citizens.

Filipinos, the third largest immigrant group in the United States, behind Mexicans and Indians, have big families. Mine is no different. Among my large but tightknit extended family of more than 25 people, I am the only one who is undocumented, the sole person in the family without legal papers in America.

According to the Pew Hispanic Center, there are an estimated 17 million people in the United States living in households where at least one person is an undocumented immigrant. Furthermore, about 4.5 million children who were born in this country have at least one undocumented parent.

Exactly how these “mixed-status” families will be included in any type of immigration reform is still up for debate. Nevertheless, they are a byproduct of our broken and byzantine immigration system. Consider my story:

My grandparents emigrated legally from the Philippines after my grandpa’s sister, who married a Filipino-American in the military, petitioned for them. The process took 12 years. Once they finally arrived, they petitioned for their children to follow them. It turned out, however, that residents cannot petition for their married children, so while my uncle, who was single, packed his bags, my married mother remained at home.

This is where I come in. Grandparents cannot petition for their grandchildren, either, but my family didn’t see a future for me in the Philippines. They made a decision to send me, alone and without papers, to live with my grandparents. They assumed I would find a woman and get my legal residence through marriage. But I came out as gay in high school, which considerably complicated matters. Since gay marriage is not recognized by the federal government, which oversees visas, and since I am not eligible for other relief programs, I am the only T.N.T. — “Tago Ng Tago,” or “hiding and hiding,” the Filipino equivalent of undocumented — in the family.

Most immigrants know someone who is undocumented, and that person is most likely a relative. This often-forgotten fact underscores the reality that undocumented immigrants are integrated not only in our communities — in classrooms and churches across America — but also in our nuclear and extended families.

This can have tragic consequences. A record 1.6 million immigrants have been deported under the Obama administration’s enforcement program, and many of them were parents of children born in the United States. A recent report on Colorlines, an online magazine that has done groundbreaking work on divided immigrant families, found that between July 2010 and the end of September 2012, more than 200,000 deportations, close to a quarter of the total, were issued for the parents of American-born children. As a result, hundreds of children with United States citizenship are living in foster care, unable to unite with their detained or deported parents.

I’ve been traveling the country advocating for immigration reform since publicly disclosing my undocumented status nearly two years ago. In addition to meeting undocumented immigrants of all backgrounds (“Can you let people know many African immigrants don’t have papers, too?” an elderly Nigerian woman whispered to me at a rally in Los Angeles), I’ve met dozens of spouses and children of undocumented people, anxious members of mixed-status families.

Last March, Diego Camposeco, a sophomore at the University of North Carolina, told me that he got involved with immigrant rights because of his parents, who illegally crossed the Mexican border in the early 1990s. The oldest of three children, Diego was born and raised in a small North Carolina town with a growing Latino population. Most of his Latino friends, he said, are also children of undocumented immigrants. Diego told me they all voted against Mitt Romney because of his views on immigration. But he also worried that one of his parents, who re-entered the country illegally after being previously deported, may not qualify for any type of relief under the Obama administration.

At least once a day these past few months, Lola calls me and says, “Malapit na ba?” Translation: “Is it close?” That’s her way of asking me if immigration reform is close to happening. She wants to know if I will ever have a solid status in this country, if I’ll be able to, among so many other things, go on vacation with her to the Philippines and — most important — come back home to the United States.

There are no words to describe just how much stress and heartbreak my immigration status, and my choice to go public with it, has caused my grandmother. Because of her I almost did not speak out about being undocumented. But it was also because of her — and my grandfather, who died in 2007, and my mother, whom I have not seen in almost 20 years — because of all their sacrifices, that I will be able to speak in Congress. I am here because of them.

Jose Antonio Vargas, a former Washington Post reporter, is the founder of Define American, a campaign that advocates for undocumented immigrants.


Backlogs hurt Asian immigrants

Asian immigrant holds U.S. flag before taking oath as citizen.

Asian immigrant holds U.S. flag before taking oath as citizen.

By Bert Eljera

LAS VEGAS  – While the focus of the national conversation on immigration tends to be on Latinos, Asians face the toughest challenges on both the legal and undocumented sides of the issue.

Community leaders say the slow pace of immigration reform hurt Asians and Asian-Americans perhaps more than any other community.

Of the five countries with the longest backlogs for visas, four are in Asian (eight in the top 10), and on the undocumented side, two million of the estimated 11 million “illegals” are of Asian descent.

“Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders bring a unique perspective to this discussion, and without our input, the next stage in this great American experiment will be incomplete,” said Judy Chu, chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus in a recent statement.

In a report released Wednesday, Feb. 13, the National Asian-American Survey said Asian-Americans have the highest proportion of foreign-born United States residents of any group — about 3 in 4 Asian-American adults were born outside the country.

Asia now accounts for the largest share of immigration to the U.S. In addition, about 10 percent of 11 million unauthorized immigrants are Asian.

In addition to Mexico, the top five countries with the longest backlogs in family-based and employment-based visa applications are the Philippines (462,145), India (332,846), Vietnam (267,281) and Mainland China.

Bangladesh is seventh (161,896) and Pakistan eighth (115,903), according to the National Visa Center, as of Nov. 2012.

If you’re trying to get a visa to legally enter the United States from an Asian country, you could be waiting for a very long time.

The National Public Radio reported that federal government places an annual cap on the total number of people who can be granted visas from any given country. Most people who qualify for visas are sponsored by family members or by employers, and the wait times for a visa approval can vary dramatically.

Karthick Ramakrishnan, a political scientist at the University of California, Riverside, who worked on the survey, said that the approval time for a family-sponsored visa application can be as little as a few months for a spouse or a child but can sometimes last up to 20 years for a sponsor’s sibling.

“If you’re looking at a backlog of 4.3 million people [waiting on family visas], it will take a while to get through the backlog,” Ramakrishnan told NPR.

The current annual cap for all family visas is 226,000.

The National Asian-american Survey said about 54 percent of Asian-Americans feel backlogs are a “significant issue” for their families, with about 4 in 10 calling it a “fairly serious” or “very serious” problem. Indians, Hmong, Vietnamese and Filipinos expressed the most concern about the backlogs.

In his State of the Union address Tuesday, President Obama said, “If you are a citizen, you shouldn’t have to wait years before your family is able to join you in America.”

Among other changes to the current system, his plan calls for raising the annual country caps for family-sponsored visas.

There has been a shift in attitude among Asian-Americans on immigration. In 2008, just 32 percent of Asian-Americans supported a pathway to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants. That number jumped to 58 percent by October of last year.

Ramakrishnan said that’s attributable to outreach by advocacy groups. “Their voter education efforts have made a difference,” he said.

“It’s part of the general leftward shift among Asian-Americans,” he said. Just two decades ago, he says, Asian-Americans voted solidly for Republicans in national elections. But by the end of the Clinton administration, that electoral advantage had totally shifted.

In November, 73 percent of Asian-American voted for President Obama.

“To the extent that they’re paying attention to the immigration debate, they’re more likely to see Republicans as shrill and out of touch,” Ramakrishnan said.

Follow Bert Eljera @vegaspinoy60 and on Facebook at

Filipino undocumented immigrant testifies before U.S. Senate


By Bert Eljera

LAS VEGAS – “What do you want to do with me?”

An undocumented Filipino immigrant asked a U.S. Senate panel in an impassioned testimony Wednesday, Feb. 13, in Washington, D.C.

Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on immigration, Jose Antonio Vargas, an undocumented journalist, asked the question on behalf of himself and millions like him, who are the subjects of what could be a comprehensive search for a solution to the country’s intractable immigration problem.
“What do you want to do with us? How do you define ‘American’?” Vargas further asked as he closed his testimony, along with several others in the continuation of the hearings, further given prominence with President Obama’s mention of immigration as apressing issue in his State of the Union address Tuesday night.

A Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, Vargas has become some kind of a poster boy for “Dreamers,” a group of young immigrants who were brought to the United States as children by their parents.

He was joined by his relatives from the Philippines, his grandma Leonila, Aunt Aida Rivera and Uncle Conrad Salinas, and some friends.

In his testimony, Vargas told the panel, led by Sen. Leahy, that  “we dream of a path to citizenship so we can actively participate in our American democracy.”

Vargas’ complete testimony:

“Thank you Chairman Leahy, Ranking Member Grassley, and distinguished members of this Committee.
I come to you as one of our country’s 11 million undocumented immigrants, many of us Americans at heart, but without the right papers to show for it. Too often, we’re treated as abstractions, faceless and nameless, subjects of debate rather than individuals with families, hopes, fears, and dreams.

“I am in America because of the sacrifices of my family. My grandparents legally emigrated from the Philippines to Silicon Valley in the mid-1980s. A few years later, Grandpa Teofilo became a U.S. citizen and legally changed his name to Ted–after Ted Danson in “Cheers.” Because grandparents cannot petition for their grandkids–and because my mother could not come to the United States–grandpa saved up money to get his only grandson, me, a passport and green card to come to America. My mother gave me up to give me a better life.

“I arrived in Mountain View, Calif. on August 3, 1993. One of my earliest memories was singing the National Anthem as a 6th grader at Crittenden Middle School, believing the song had somehow something to do with me. I thought the first lines were, “Jose, can you see?

“Four years later, I applied for a driver’s permit like any 16 year old. That was when I discovered that the green card that my grandpa gave me was fake.

“But I wanted to work. I wanted to contribute to a country that is now my home. At age 17, I decided to be a journalist for a seemingly naive reason: if I am not supposed to be in America because I don’t have the right kind of papers, what if my name–my byline–was on the paper? How can they say I don’t exist if my name is in newspapers and magazines? I thought I could write my way into America.

“As I built a successful career as a journalist–paying Social Security and state and federal taxes along the way–as fear and shame, as denial and pain, enveloped me–words became my salvation. I found solace in the words of the Rev. Martin Luther King, quoting St. Augustine: “An unjust law is no law at all.”

“Ultimately, it took me 12 years to come out as an undocumented American–because that is what I am, an American. But I am grateful to have been able to tell the truth. And in the past few years, more undocumented people, particularly young DREAMers, are coming out. Telling the truth about the America we experience.

“We dream of a path to citizenship so we can actively participate in our American democracy.

“We dream of not being separated from our families and our loved ones, regardless of sexual orientation, no matter our skill set. This government has deported more than 1.6 million people–fathers and mothers, sons and daughters–in the past four years.

“We dream of contributing to the country we call our home.

“In 21st century America, diversity is destiny. That I happen to be gay; that I speak Tagalog, my first language, and want to learn Spanish–that does not threaten my love for this country. How interconnected and integrated we are as Americans makes us stronger.

“Sitting behind me today is my Filipino-American family–my grandma Leonila, whom I love very much; my Aunt Aida Rivera, who helped raised me; and my Uncle Conrad Salinas, who served, proudly, in the U.S. Navyfor 20 years. They’re all naturalized American citizens.

“I belong in what is called a mixed-status family. I am the only one in my extended family of 25 Americans who is undocumented. When you inaccurately call me “illegal,” you’re not only dehumanizing me, you’re offending them. No human being is illegal.

“Also here is my Mountain View High School family–my support network of allies who encouraged and protected me since I was a teenager. After I told my high school principal and school superintendent that I was not planning to go to college because I could not apply for financial aid, Pat Hyland and Rich Fischer secured a private scholarship for me. The scholarship was funded by a man named Jim Strand. I am honored that Pat, Rich and Jim are all here today. Across the country, there are countless other Jim Strands, Pat Hylands, and Rich Fischers of all backgrounds who stand alongside their undocumented neighbors. They don’t need to see pieces of paper–a passport or a green card–to treat us as human beings.

“This is the truth about immigration in our America.

“As this Congress decides on fair, humane reform, let us remember that immigration is not merely about borders. “Immigration is in our blood…part of our founding story,” writes Sen. Ted Kennedy, former chairman of this very Committee, in the introduction to President Kennedy’s book, “A Nation of Immigrants.” Immigration is about our future. Immigration is about all of us.

“And before I take your questions, I have a few of my own:
What do you want to do with me?

“What do you want to do with us?

“How do you define ‘American’?”

Follow Bert Eljera on Twitter @vegaspinoy60 and on Facebook at

Family unity: Basis for immigration reform


Asians and Asian-Americans are growing in importance in the U.S. immigration debate.

By Bert Eljera

LAS VEGAS – Any meaningful immigration reform should start with a commitment to keep families together, leaders of the Asian Pacific American community stressed on the eve of President Obama’s State of the Union Address.

U.S. House of Representatives Judy Chu and Mike Honda, both Democrats from California, said family unity is the primary concern of Asian Pacific Americans.

“Families should not be divided across continents when we know that our society benefits by keeping them together, ” said Chu, head of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC), on Tuesday.

She said Asian families are hurt two ways: family break-ups through deportation of undocumented immigrants, and long backlogs for those wanting to join their families in the United States legally.

About two million of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. are of Asian descent, and CAPAC said it supports a path to citizenship based on earned residency.

“With Asians making up ten percent of all unauthorized immigrants, there is the need for a roadmap to citizenship,” Chu said.

In addition, the Asian Pacific American leaders said they support a comprehensive immigration that  “strengthen our economy and workforce, promote integration for new Americans, and establish smarter, more effective enforcement.”

The five-point approach was recently unveiled by the caucus, the leading voice of the community in the U.S. Congress.

Chu and Honda pointed out that when the annual state of the union address was begun by Woodrow Wilson more than 100 years ago, the Chinese Exclusion Act was in effect and Chinese were not allowed to enter the United States.

Now, as President Obama makes his address, Chinese and other Asians are the fastest growing ethnic group in the U.S., according to the 2010 census.

Asians make up the largest group of immigrants arriving in the U.S., Chu said, yet they remain largely on the sidelines of the immigration debate.

“Americans and Pacific Islanders bring a unique perspective to this discussion, and without our input, the next stage in this great American experiment will be incomplete,” Chu said.

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Filipino veterans to take their fight to U.S. Supreme Court

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa meets with Filipino World War II veterans (Getty Images)

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa meets with Filipino World War II veterans (Getty Images)

LAS VEGASAging Filipino veterans seeking benefits for their World War II services have decided to elevate their case to the U.S. Supreme Court, the lawyer representing them said on Monday.

Arnedo Valera, in a statement from Manila on Feb. 11, said they have no other recourse than take the case to the highest court after a San Francisco appeals court turned them down.

“The fight continues,” Valera told the Philippine newspaper, The Daily Inquirer.  “Sadly, the decision highlights the continued discrimination against our beloved veterans.”

He did not say when the case will bed filed, but “soon.”

The Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled that the claims of thousands of other veterans were rejected since records from the Philippines proving their services were not accepted by US authorities.

The case was brought before the court in October 2010, after what seemed at the time a historic solution in one of the first acts of the Obama administration.

In 2009, the US Congress approved the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Obama’s stimulus package, which included one-time payments of $15,000 to Filipino veterans in the United States and $9,000 to those living in the Philippines.

In addition, the in the run-up to the November election, President Obama created an inter-agency task force to look into the records of veterans excluded from the initial payments to have their records reviewed.

Thus far, the task force has not submitted a report on the review.

More than 250,000 Filipinos who fought for the United States during World War II, were integrated into the U.S. Armed Forces on orders of then-President Franklin d. Roosevelt.


However, in 1946, the US Congress enacted the Rescission Act and stripped Filipinos of their U.S. veteran status, and took away their full benefits.

Through the efforts of Filipino veteran groups in the United States and their supporters in the U.S. Congress, certain benefits were restored, including the opportunity to become U.S. citizens, which several thousand veterans availed of.

The lawsuit, filed in the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco in October 2010, said the claims of thousands of other veterans were rejected since records from the Philippines proving their services were not accepted by US authorities.

The Department of Veterans Affairs required documentation from a federal registry in St. Louis, Missouri, where records were destroyed in a fire.

Some Filipino veterans also said it was unrealistic to get them to file their claims before the Feb. 16, 2010, deadline.

They described as discriminatory a provision of the law that denied benefits to widows and other survivors of veterans who had died before US President Barack Obama signed the ARRA in February 2009.

In its decision, the federal appeals court upheld a federal judge’s dismissal of the lawsuit, saying there was no evidence that excluding the widows and other survivors of deceased veterans was discriminatory.

The appellate court also said that to conserve funds, the government could provide territorial residents with fewer benefits than those given to US citizens.

“Our veterans are dying,” Valera said. “In the next few years, the last veterans of World War II could perish without seeing justice.”

Quoting Felino Punsalan, 96, who recently wrote a letter to Obama asking him to issue an executive order giving full recognition to the Filipino veterans, Valera said: “As veterans, we do not beg for entitlement. We simply ask [for] the recognition that we earned with our sacrifice.”

In Las Vegas, Republican Congressman Joe Heck filed a bill that would recognize the Filipino veterans as U.S. veterans. It is essentially the same bill he filed last year which Dean Heller of Nevada also filed in the U.S. Senate.

Follow Bert Eljera on Twitter @vegaspinoy60 and on Facebook at


Fred Korematsu: Once a fugitive, now hailed as a hero

(This is a reprint of an article I originally wrote for Asian Week and reprinted by Sikh Times).


AsianWeek, Jan. 15, 1998

President Clinton confers the Medal of Honor on fred Korematsu.

President Clinton confers the Medal of Freedom on Fred Korematsu.

In the autumn of his life, Fred Korematsu has finally found vindication for the battles of his youth. As a young man of 23, Korematsu defied the 1942 presidential order that forced the evacuation of Americans of Japanese descent from cities and towns on the West Coast into inland interment camps across the West. He was convicted and sent to jail.

But now, for that same act of defiance, the 79-year-old Korematsu is being hailed as a hero worthy of the nation’s highest civilian decoration. In an ironic twist, while one U.S. president was instrumental in his conviction, another is now responsible for his canonization; a testament to the long road this country has traveled over the past half-century in the civil-rights arena.

Last week, President Clinton named Korematsu one of the 15 winners of this year’s Presidential Medal of Freedom award, the nation’s highest civilian honor. The awards ceremony is expected to be held today at the White House.”

I’m overwhelmed,’ Korematsu said from his home in San Leandro, Calif. “It’s really an honor for me. I’m accepting this award for all Japanese Americans taken to the camps, for all their suffering and embarrassment.

A self-employed draftsman, Korematsu is happy to see that the country has acknowledged the wrong done to Japanese Americans in his lifetime. “This is a reminder for all of us that prejudice will always be with us,” he said. “We should be vigilant to make sure this will never happen again.”

The award brings to a close Korematsu’s 56-year struggle to clear his name. He took his case to the U.S. Supreme Court and lost. For 40 years, he lived his life as a convicted criminal.

Then in Nov. 1984, the Supreme Court overturned his conviction, and ruled that the internment program violated the constitutional rights of Japanese Americans. The decision led to the landmark 1988 Civil Liberties Act in which the U.S. government apologized for the forced internment and compensated each internee with a $20,000 payment.

“This is an ordinary man who did an extraordinary act,” said Dale Minami, a San Francisco lawyer and a member of the team that succeeded in challenging Korematsu’s conviction. “This shows that everyday people can rise and become heroes. What he did was not an act of intellectual defiance.” He said, ‘this is wrong and I don’t have to go.’ ”

Korematsu did not intend to be a hero, according to Minami. “His motive was self-preservation. Later, it became an act of moral defiance,” he noted.”

Korematsu was born in Oakland in 1919, the third of four sons of Japanese immigrants. The family owned a flower nursery. Although Japanese was spoken at home, he was more at ease with the English language. He remembers observing Japanese festivals, but he spent much of his time playing basketball, tennis, and football with his classmates.

He considered himself a typical American boy. But his life changed dramatically – as that of all Japanese Americans – when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, and the United States was dragged into World War II.

Wary of spies and saboteurs, the U.S. government cracked down on Japanese Americans on the West Coast with a curfew and interrogation by the F.B.I.

On Feb. 19, 1942, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, mandating the internment of all Japanese Americans.

Korematsu’s family was taken to Tanforan, a former race track south of San Francisco for processing, but he decided not to go. Engaged to an Italian American at the time, he tried to change his appearance by having his eyelids surgically altered.

He lived in a boarding house, worked at several jobs, and made plans to join his fiancee on the East Coast. But on May 30, 1942, he was arrested and joined his family at Tanforan. They were later taken to the Topaz internment camp in Utah.

“They forced us into concentration camps without trial or hearing,” Korematsu said. “We felt we were Americans, and we want to help [in the war effort] too. We were not the enemy.”

Wayne Collins, an attorney with the Northern California American Civil Liberties Union, convinced Korematsu to take his case to court. He eventually lost, however, and Korematsu was sentenced to five years probation.

On Feb. 19, 1943, Korematsu and two other resisters – Miyoru Yasui and Gordon Hirabayashi – appealed their case to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and later to the U.S. Supreme Court.

But in Dec. 1944, the high court ruled that Korematsu “was not excluded from the military area because of hostility to him or his race, but rather because we’re at war with Japan.” Korematsu headed for Detroit after leaving the camp.

In 1949, after he married, he and his wife, Kathryn, moved to the Bay Area where they raised their two children, Karen and Kenneth, both now in their 40s.

His conviction was always in the back of his mind. “I was waiting for someone to help me,” Korematsu said. “To re-open the case would cost a lot of money.”

That help came unexpectedly in 1981 when a historian and law professor, Peter Irons, found in his research that government prosecutors possessed evidence in Korematsu’s trial indicating that Japanese Americans were generally loyal to the United States.

This evidence was not disclosed by the prosecution. “I was shocked,” said Irons, now a political finance professor at the University of California at San Diego. “Lawyers are not supposed to lie to the court, and this was the solicitor general of the United States, the highest lawyer in the government.”

He found that the government lied to the Supreme Court in 1944, deliberately withholding critical evidence, such as military intelligence, that concluded that Japanese Americans did not pose a serious threat to U.S. security.”

The injustice was so obvious that the government has to acknowledge it,” said Irons, who found the evidence while researching his book Justice at War, which deals with the Japanese American internment.

Irons contacted Korematsu and other defendants about re-opening the case based on the new evidence. He then assembled a team of lawyers – mostly Asian Americans – led by Minami. On Jan. 19, 1983, the attorneys filed a writ of coram nobis – the legal term for error committed before the court – in San Francisco federal court.

They argued that the government committed fraud in prosecuting Korematsu in 1942 because there was no military necessity to place Japanese Americans in internment camps.

After well-attended hearings, Judge Marilyn Hall Patel overturned Korematsu’s conviction on Nov. 10, 1983, more than 40 years after his arrest. The government did not appeal the decision.

In a way, it’s a vindication of his position,” Irons said of Korematsu receiving the Medal of Freedom. “President Roosevelt did not have any hesitation in ordering Japanese Americans to the camps.”

But President Clinton has decided to honor Fred’s courage. Korematsu feels it was important that the injustice against his people was acknowledged and remedied “because they can do this again to any Asian or any American for that matter. How safe are we?”

Rep. Robert Matsui, D-Calif., said that Korematsu animated a national conscience to redress an injustice perpetrated by the government against its own citizens. “Every American today and in the future owes Fred a debt of gratitude for his efforts to guarantee that no citizen, regardless of their ancestry, can be denied due process and the basic liberties guaranteed by our constitution,” Matsui said in a press statement.

To ensure that Americans do not forget the lessons from the internment, Korematsu, a shy, private person, has spoken before students and educators at Harvard, Princeton, Yale, and other prestigious schools about his case.

“Without those educational efforts, we could not have come to this point when a Japanese American is being honored by the very government official who sent his people to the camps,” Minami said. “It’s just beautiful.

“There is a symmetry to this whole episode of his life. He stood up in 1942 to challenge the [presidential] order and came back 40 years later to overturn his conviction. Now, he stands at the White House and [is] honored for his convictions.”

He said Korematsu’s case and those of the other resisters exposed the weaknesses of the judicial system, but led to better awareness of civil rights.

The great civil-rights movement sensitized this country to the issue of racial discrimination,” Minami said. “It helped people understand how wrong slavery was, and the mass incarceration of a whole racial group could be.”

In an effort to preserve Korematsu’s civil-rights legacy, the Asian Law Caucus, a San Francisco-based nonprofit, established the Fred Korematsu Civil Rights Fund, which provides a financial base for the agency’s human- and civil-rights work.

The fund pays for annual fellowships at the Asian Law Caucus for recent law graduates, as well as educational conferences on civil-rights issues. This year, the fund will play a growing role in student internships, scholarships, and professional training, according to Asian Law Caucus Executive Director Angelo Ancheta.

The Korematsu case serves as a reminder that we should be very careful and vigilant of our civil liberties,” Ancheta said. “In many ways, [the award] is a symbolic honor, a recognition of the wrongs committed during World War II.”

It is also a recognition of one individual’s courage, as well as support from various communities to have the conviction overturned,” Ancheta said. Korematsu energized the Asian Pacific American civil-rights advocates, “sending a message that you can get something done, even if it looks almost impossible to achieve,” he said.

Still active, Korematsu now works mostly at home. Right now, he is involved in the renovation of a hotel in San Mateo. This week, he and his wife leave for Washington, D.C., to receive the award, which will be presented at the White House on Thursday.

The Korematsu’s eldest son, Kenneth, is single. Their daughter, Karen, is married to an Englishman, Donald Haigh, and has no children. The incarceration of his family was a painful experience for Korematsu, and the topic was never brought up during family discussion.

Karen chanced upon the fact that her father played a prominent role in the effort to strike down the presidential order when she learned about a case called Korematsu v. United States while doing research on the Japanese American internment. After her father’s court victory in 1983, Karen was instrumental in establishing the Fred Korematsu Civil Rights Fund.

The Korematsus are flying to Washington, D.C., courtesy of the Civil Liberties Fund, which was created following the success of the redress movement to help educate the American people about the wartime internment. Joining the couple are Minami, Irons, and other A.P.A. leaders in the nation’s capital.

Among the winners of the Presidential Medal of Freedom are civil-rights leader Arnold Aronson, who joined Martin Luther King in the historic March on Washington in 1963, and Wilma Mankiller, who became the first woman to lead an Indian tribe when she was elected chief of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma in 1987. Also being honored are philanthropists David Rockefeller and Brooke Astor, Pulitzer-Prize-winning author Robert Coles and Mario G. Obledo, co-founder of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund.”


Utah Gov. Gary Herbert has signed a declaration signed Friday establishing Jan. 30, 2013, as Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution. That date is Korematsu’s birthday; he died in 2005 and would have been 94 this year.

In 2010, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill establishing Fred Korematsu Day as an annual observance. Last year, Gov. Neil Abercrombie proclaimed Jan. 30, 2013 as Korematsu Day in Hawaii.

— Bert Eljera