War Relocation Authority

The War Relocation Authority (WRA) was a United States government agency established to handle the internment, i.e. forced relocation and detention, of Japanese Americans during World War II. It also operated the Fort Ontario Emergency Refugee Shelter in Oswego, New York, which was the only refugee camp set up in the United States for refugees from Europe.[1]

Formation

Hayward, California, May 8, 1942. Two children of the Mochida family who, with their parents, are awaiting evacuation bus. The youngster on the right holds a sandwich given her by one of a group of women who were present from a local church. The family unit is kept intact during evacuation and at War Relocation Authority centers where evacuees of Japanese ancestry will be housed for the duration.
(Photo by Dorothea Lange).

After the December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, authorizing military commanders to create zones from which certain persons could be excluded if they posed a threat to national security. Military Areas 1 and 2 were created soon after, encompassing all of California and much of Washington, Oregon and Arizona, and subsequent civilian exclusion orders informed Japanese Americans residing in these zones they would be scheduled for "evacuation." The WRA was formed on March 18, 1942 via Executive Order 9102, with Milton S. Eisenhower as the original director.

Eisenhower was a proponent of Roosevelt's New Deal and disapproved of the idea of the mass internment.[2] Early on he had tried, unsuccessfully, to limit the internment to adult men, allowing women and children to remain free, and he pushed to keep WRA policy in line with the original idea of making the camps similar to subsistence homesteads in the rural interior of the country.[3] This, along with proposals for helping Japanese Americans resettle in labor-starved farming communities outside the exclusion zone, was met with opposition from the governors of these interior states, who worried about security issues and claimed it was "politically infeasible," at a meeting in Salt Lake City in April 1942.[4] Shortly before the meeting Eisenhower wrote to his former boss, Secretary of Agriculture Claude Wickard, and said, "when the war is over and we consider calmly this unprecedented migration of 120,000 people, we as Americans are going to regret the unavoidable injustices that we may have done."[5]

Disappointed, Eisenhower was director of the WRA for only ninety days, resigning June 18, 1942. However, during his tenure with the WRA he raised wages for interned Japanese Americans, worked with the Japanese American Citizens League to establish an internee advisory council, initiated a student leave program for college-age Nisei, and petitioned Congress to create programs for postwar rehabilitation. He also pushed Roosevelt to make a public statement in support of loyal Nisei and attempted to enlist the Federal Reserve Bank to protect the property left behind by displaced Japanese Americans, but was unable to overcome opposition to these proposals.[3][6] Eisenhower was replaced by Dillon S. Myer, who would run the WRA until its dissolution at the end of the war.

Japanese Americans had already been removed from their West Coast homes and placed in temporary "assembly centers" (run by a separate military body, the Wartime Civilian Control Administration) over the spring of 1942; Myer's primary responsibility upon taking the position was to continue with the planning and construction of the more permanent replacements for the WCCA camps.[7]

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