NEW YORK — Four Japanese Americans incarcerated during World War II asked a New York federal district court on July 11 to prevent the government from including a citizenship question on the 2020 Census.
Former Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta and three sisters, Sharon Sakamoto, Eileen Yoshiko Sakamoto Okada and Joy Sakamoto Barker, argue that the citizenship question will cause distrust, undermining the census’ sole and essential purpose of counting every person, regardless of citizenship.
They are joined by the Korematsu Center for Law and Equality at Seattle University School of Law and the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR)-New York. Akin Gump serves as co-counsel on the brief.
“When I was 10 years old in 1942, my family and I were forcibly taken from our home in San Jose and incarcerated at the Heart Mountain camp in Wyoming, solely because we were Japanese American,” said Mineta, who has served as mayor of San Jose, a congressman for two decades, secretary of commerce under President Bill Clinton and secretary of transportation under President George W. Bush. “Years later, we learned the government improperly used census information to quickly round up and incarcerate 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry.
“Today, there is unprecedented concern from minority communities on the collection of citizenship information by the Census Bureau. Citizenship data is not necessary to ensuring a full census count and collecting this information ‘lies like a loaded weapon, ready for the hand of any authority that can bring forward a plausible claim of an urgent need.’ We must not repeat history.”
Mineta was quoting from a dissenting opinion by Justice Robert Jackson from Korematsu v. United States, in which the Supreme Court accepted the government’s argument that the incarceration was justified by military necessity.
In March, the Census Bureau announced that it would include a citizenship question on the 2020 decennial census questionnaire, claiming that it is necessary allow the bureau to measure the portion of the population eligible to vote. While the Census Bureau prides itself in preventing the improper use of its data, the brief argues, the citizenship question is not necessary and will deter immigrant communities from responding to the census.
The brief says that it is essential that the public trust in the census and warned against using the census for anything other than the public count. During World War II, improperly used census data was the single most important resource the government used to remove and incarcerate the Japanese Americans.
In 2001, the bureau acknowledged, “The historical record is clear that senior Census Bureau staff proactively cooperated with the internment, and that census tabulations were directly implicated.”
“My parents and siblings were all American citizens, but that did not stop the government from using Census data to incarcerate my family in the Minidoka concentration camp in Idaho,” said Sakamoto. “I was born in Minidoka [Idaho] and my sisters spent their childhood behind barbed-wire fences. People need to trust that the census will be used solely for the important purpose of counting every person and not be used for any other purpose.”
The amicus brief filed at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York argues that the court can and should meaningfully review the Census Bureau’s addition of the citizenship question to determine whether it violates the Administrative Procedure Act and the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution.
“President Franklin Roosevelt broke the promise in his presidential census proclamation that no person can be harmed in any way by furnishing the information required,” said Lorraine K. Bannai, director of the Fred T. Korematsu Center for Law and Equality. “Trust, once breached, can take decades to rebuild. It is crucial that the census be conducted free of any improper conduct by government officials charged with ensuring trust in the census as an institution.”