WASHINGTON — Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) and Rep. Mike Honda (D-Santa Clara) on Nov. 16 commended President Obama’s announcement that Minoru Yasui, who protested the illegal incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, would be posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
“Minoru Yasui stood up for what was right at a time of injustice toward Japanese Americans,” said Hirono. “I am proud to have worked with so many passionate advocates in support of this nomination. The Presidential Medal of Freedom to Mr. Yasui recognizes him not only for his courageous stand during the time of the unjust internment of Japanese Americans, but for his lifelong commitment to civil rights and social justice.”
“Min Yasui was an American civil rights leader who bravely challenged our government’s incarceration of Americans of Japanese ancestry in World War II in the Supreme Court,” said Honda. “I am proud to have joined Sen. Hirono and Rep. (Diana) DeGette (D-Colo.), along with many of our House and Senate colleagues, to support his nomination for the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
“This medal expresses our country’s appreciation for the continued lessons we learn from his courage and lifetime of advocating for civil rights, providing legal assistance to Japanese American and immigrant communities, and building bridges with communities of color. I am thrilled to congratulate Mr. Yasui on his well-deserved recognition. It will shed light on his dedication, and inspire others to make contributions of their own.”
“The Presidential Medal of Freedom for my father is a historic achievement for the community and such an honor for my family,” said Holly Yasui, daughter of Minoru Yasui. “We are thankful to President Obama for the award and to Sen. Hirono for making the nomination, and Rep. Honda and others for supporting my father for this honor.”
“I am deeply appreciative of the recognition from President Obama of Minoru Yasui for his lifelong achievement in furthering civil and human rights,” said Peggy Nagae, lead attorney in the reopening of Yasui’s Supreme Court case. “Not only did he step forward as a young lawyer to test the constitutionality of the military curfew, he also understood the importance of cross-racial/ethnic partnerships and helped to found African American, Latino, and Native American organizations.”
After President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, imposing curfews, banning travel, and the mandating the mass internment of Japanese Americans, Yasui, then a resident of Oregon, knowingly violated the restrictions in order to challenge the constitutionality of the order. He was interned at the Minidoka camp in Idaho as he appealed his case to the Supreme Court.
The court ruled that it was constitutional to restrict the lives of private citizens during times of war. After World War II ended, Yasui continued to fight for reparations and justice for Japanese Americans and communities of color. While his conviction was vacated in the 1980s after filing a writ of coram nobis, Yasui passed away while appealing the government’s conduct during his case.
Last year, Hirono, joined by Honda, a broad coalition of community leaders, and members of Congress, nominated Yasui for the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States.
The award ceremony was held Nov. 24 at the White House.