2.1 - Japanese Americans and Aleuts Incarceration Constitutional Violations
Grade: 6-12Subjects: English, Social Studies, U.S. History, World History, Civics, Government
Activities: 3Extension Activities: 4

The video clip covers personal narratives from victims and descendants and highlights how the American government forced Japanese Americans and the Aleuts of Alaska into incarceration camps under President Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066. The lesson covers the forced removal process, conditions and lives in the camps, and the eventual release of prisoners. The lesson analyzes the incarceration of Japanese Americans and Aleuts as a violation of their constitutional rights. Students discuss examples of incarceration and connect instances of incarceration with current social and political events pertaining to the concept of “families belong together.”
At the end of this lesson, students will be able to:
Japanese Americans and Aleuts Incarceration Constitutional Violations Essay:
Two months after Pearl Harbor was bombed in Hawai'i, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order No. 9066 (February 19, 1942), which forcibly incarcerated more than 120,000 Japanese Americans in ten different incarceration camps across the U.S. The ensuing war between the U.S. and its allies against the Axis forces of Germany, Italy, and Japan increased anti-Japanese sentiment, causing distrust of the large Japanese population on the West Coast of the United States. Despite the fact that 2/3 of them were U.S. citizens, Japanese Americans were suspected of remaining loyal to America’s wartime enemy, Japan.
After Executive Order No. 9066 was issued, the U.S. government only allowed Japanese Americans to bring whatever they could carry to the camps and gave them only one week to dispose of the rest of their personal belongings. They did not receive any due process, and they were immediately hauled onto different buses and sent to camps across the country. Anyone with at least 1/16th of Japanese ancestry was incarcerated, including infants. In other words, the incarceration of Japanese Americans was based on race, not security. How can a mere infant be a dangerous enemy of the United States?
During incarceration, Japanese Americans faced mistreatment inside the camps. Men were separated from women – husbands from their wives. They lacked food to eat, milk for babies, and coal for heat. Uprisings broke out because of these deplorable conditions. Several incarcerees were shot and killed by military police. The suicide rate was high inside the camps as well. Incarcerated Japanese Americans were also forced to answer a loyalty questionnaire regarding their loyalty to the United States. If they responded “no” to the loyalty questionnaire, they were transferred to Tule Lake where they faced even harsher conditions.
While Japanese Americans were incarcerated due to fear and racism, a group of indigenous Aleuts in Alaska were also incarcerated during this time. The Aleuts lived in a combat zone, as Japanese forces attacked Alaska, and the American government decided to forcibly remove the Aleuts from their homes. Once they were removed, their homes were burned to the ground because the American government did not want Japanese soldiers to occupy them.
In other words, the Aleuts were not consulted. Just like the Japanese Americans, the Aleuts were sent to incarceration camps to live in deplorable conditions.
In September 1943, President Roosevelt promised a return to the West Coast for some Japanese Americans, and the U.S. Army agreed later that there was no longer any reason for the incarceration. Partly because of election year politics, Roosevelt delayed the return to three days after his reelection, on Nov. 10, 1944. Tule Lake was the last camp to close, on March 20, 1946. The only assistance the released incarcerees received from the federal government was $25 and a train ticket. They had no homes or jobs to return to: many of their homes were burned, and some were shot at in their homes. For decades after the war, the experience of incarceration remained so painful that many never spoke about their treatment, not even to their own families.

“A Brief History of Japanese American Relocation During World War II.” National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior. https://www.nps.gov/articles/historyinternment.htm. Accessed August 8, 2020.
The Children of the Camps Project. “WWII Internment Timeline.” PBS. https://www.pbs.org/childofcamp/history/timeline.html. Accessed August 8, 2020.
“Franklin D. Roosevelt.” Densho Encyclopedia. http://encyclopedia.densho.org/Franklin%20D.%20Roosevelt/. Accessed August 8, 2020.
History.com Editors. “Japanese Internment Camps.” February 21, 2020. A&E Television Networks. https://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/japanese-american-relocation. Accessed August 8, 2020.
“The Internment of Japanese Americans During the War.” Henrico County Public Schools, VA. https://teachers.henrico.k12.va.us/tucker/strusky_m/2360cwebpage/presentation/2008vus12c_internment/VUS12c_Internment.htm. Accessed August 8, 2020.
Japanese American National Museum. (n.d.). FAQ. Retrieved from http://www.janm.org/exhibits/breed/gloss_t.htm.
“Mail Call: A Belated Apology, ‘Words alone cannot restore lost years’.” February 14, 2019. The National WWII Museum, New Orleans. https://www.nationalww2museum.org/war/articles/mail-callbelated-apology. Accessed August 8, 2020.
Nagata, D. K., Kim, J., & Wu, K. (2019). “The Japanese American wartime incarceration: Examining the scope of racial trauma.” American Psychologist, 74(1), 36–48. https://doi.org/10.1037/amp0000303. Accessed August 8, 2020.
Romano, Renee. “The trauma of internment.” June 25, 2018. Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/made-by-history/wp/2018/06/25/the-trauma-of-internment/. Accessed August 8, 2020.

1 All definitions are adopted from the Oxford Learners Dictionaries
2 Definition adapted from National Park Service
Discussion Question
  1. If you were forced to relocate to an incarceration camp and had one suitcase to bring and the rest of your belongings would have to be disposed of, what would you bring with you? How would you feel?
  2. What was incarceration like for the Japanese Americans, based on the film clip you watched?
  3. When you hear the word, “incarceration,” what does it mean to you? What are the differences between incarceration camps versus prisons or detention centers? What are some similarities?
  4. What caused the American government to force Japanese Americans and the Aleuts from Alaska into incarceration camps during World War II? What role did anti-Japanese prejudice and anti-Japanese propaganda play in this? Was the belief that Japanese Americans were aiding the enemy found to be true or false?
  5. What constitutional rights of Japanese Americans and Aleuts were violated during World War II?
  6. To “leave a legacy” means contributing to the future generation. What do you think is the legacy of incarceration for Japanese Americans and the Aleuts?
Activity 1: Incarceration of Japanese Americans and the Aleuts
  1. Ask students to research the incarceration of Japanese Americans and the Aleuts during World War II, using this lesson’s essay as a starting point. Helpful resources may include the following articles:
    1. First Japanese Ready to Leave Coast article from the Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco (1942, March 19). http://www.sfmuseum.org/hist8/intern2.html
    2. The Other WWII American-Internment Atrocity article from NPR by John Smelcer (2017, February 27). https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2017/02/21/516277507/the-otherwwii-american-internment-atrocity
  2. Students should create a table or chart listing their findings for the two groups and draw out similarities or differences. You may scaffold their research process by instructing them to create the following categories and research questions for their chart:
    1. Pre-Incarceration: What events led to this community’s incarceration? What process did the forced removal orders follow? What was the community’s response to the order? How did they prepare for the incarceration camps?
    2. Incarceration: What conditions were community members subjected to in the camps? How did incarceration affect their family lives? Their personal lives? Their education and careers?
    3. Post-Incarceration: When did incarceration end for this community, and why? How were the community members able to return to their old lives, if at all?
  3. After completing the chart, ask students to split into small groups or pairs. Haves students share their findings with each other and supplement their charts with any new information from their group members.
  4. Ask each group to report back and lead a classroom discussion on their research findings. End with the following reflection questions:
    1. In what ways were these incarceration camps similar to a prison?
    2. What processes did the American government use to force these communities into the incarceration camps?
    3. Do you think any constitutional rights were violated during these processes? Why or why not?
    4. What did you discover about the conditions inside the camps?
    5. What long term impact did the camps have on Japanese Americans and the Aleuts?
Activity 2: What Constitutes Due Process?
  1. Ask students to read aloud the following quote from Satsuki Ina in the film clip:
    “There was no due process. The government framed it as an issue of loyalty. But there had never been a question of loyalty to the Japanese American community. Nobody asked about loyalty before they were incarcerated.”

    Facilitate a discussion based on the quote using the following questions:
    1. What is due process?
    2. Before the Japanese Americans were incarcerated were they charged with any crime? Did they have a fair trial?
    3. Why was the incarceration framed as an issue of loyalty for Japanese Americans, but not German Americans and Italian Americans?
  2. Instruct students to research due process in the criminal system in America. Due process has many different forms, but generally, an individual’s right to liberty is so fundamental that it can only be taken away by a criminal conviction.
    1. What constitutional due process requirements exist in the criminal system?
    2. Students will report back their findings, which should include, at a minimum: no searches of private property without a warrant, declaration of formal charges before prolonged imprisonment, and an opportunity to defend oneself in front of a jury of one’s peers before being sentenced.
  3. Come back together as a class and revisit the prior discussion:
    1. What should due process have looked like for Japanese Americans and the Aleuts in WWII?
    2. Do you think that can happen again to any group of people?
    3. How can we prevent incarceration of innocent people happen again?
    4. What lessons can we take from this history and apply to today?
Activity 3: Violation of Constitutional Rights
  1. Explain to the students that Constitutional rights provide protections that the government cannot violate. Many of the protections come from the 27 amendments to the Constitution.
    • Break the class into small groups of 4 students each. Then, assign each group member two constitutional amendments to research from the following list: the 1st, 4th, 5th, 6th, 8th, 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments. These are the amendments most applicable to the incarceration of Japanese Americans and Aleuts during WWII.
    • Ask students to research how the right is applied. They should find several examples to illustrate the scope of the right and how it is protected.
    • See Japanese-Aleuts-Incarceration-Constitution-Violation-examples.

    Option A – Matching activity. Distribute Japanese-Aleuts-Incarceration-Constitution-Violation-Matching-Activity. See the answer key in the Activity Book on https://asianamericanedu.org/. Ask each group to match the constitutional violations.
    Option B – Blank out the first column of Japanese-Aleuts-Incarceration-Constitution-Violation-examples. Ask each group to complete the first column.
    Option C – Blank out the second column of Japanese-Aleuts-Incarceration-Constitution-Violation-examples. Ask each group to complete the second column.
  2. After students complete the above activity, review students’ responses and facilitate a whole group discussion by asking the following questions:
    • In what ways were the constitutional rights of Japanese Americans and Aleuts violated by Executive Order 9066?
    • In what ways did the incarcerated Japanese Americans and Aleuts fight back?
    • In Korematsu v. United States, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Executive Order. Do you think this decision was rightly decided? Why or why not? What was later discovered about what the War Department really knew about the alleged threat of Japanese Americans? What was done about that?
    • Why are constitutional rights and freedoms important, and how do we ensure that they are protected for everyone?
Extension Activities
  1. Have students do a gallery walk using Dorothea Lange’s photos. Photos can be accessed from: Lange, D. (1942). "Rarely seen photos of Japanese internment." Retrieved from
  2. Classroom Ballot
    • If you were to pick one very powerful image from the film clip to express the stories of Japanese Americans or Aleuts who were in incarceration camps that will be displayed in a museum, which one would you choose?
    • Have students get a sticky note, write their names, and place it on top/below of the image of their choice.
    • Count the ballots for each selected image.
    • Have students justify their selections for the most voted picture and other pictures that were not unanimously voted.
  3. Quick Write
    • Have students respond to the following prompts:
    • What is your own definition of incarceration camps?
    • What does the chosen picture from the gallery reveal about the life of Japanese Americans and Aleuts in incarceration camps? (refer to Extension Activity #2)
  4. A graphic organizer can aid students in listing similarities and differences between events. Students can compare:

    (A) the forced incarceration of Japanese Americans and Aleuts during World War II to
    (B) the forced removal of undocumented immigrants out of their homes and separation from their families by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency.

    • Have students devise a presentation aid to compare the three different issues and use these ideas to form a debate in class or write a persuasive essay addressed to their state representatives.
    • A suggested resource for information about the removal of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. is found in the Further Information section of this lesson plan.
    • Include the following guide for listing similarities and differences: intention, year of event, treatment of prisoners, and daily life during incarceration.
Further Information
De Graaf, J., & Anderson, C. (1984). Visible target. Retrieved from https://vimeo.com/196028052/66d61ee86b.
“Sites of incarceration.” Densho Encyclopedia. https://encyclopedia.densho.org/Sites_of_incarceration/. Accessed August 7, 2020.
Staff Report: Child Separations by the Trump Administration. (July 2019). U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Oversight and Reform. Retrieved from https://oversight.house.gov/sites/democrats.oversight.house.gov/files/2019-07-2019.%20Immigrant%20Child%20Separations-%20Staff%20Report.pdf.
“Terminology.” Densho Encyclopedia. https://densho.org/terminology/. Accessed August 7, 2020.
World War II Aleut Relocation Camps in Southeast Alaska. National Park Service. Retrieved from https://www.nps.gov/articles/aleu-mobley-intro.htm.
“WWII INTERNMENT TIMELINE.” The Children of the Camps Project. https://www.pbs.org/childofcamp/history/timeline.html. Accessed August 7, 2020.
Aleuts from Alaska. Blakemore, E. (2017, February 22). The U.S. forcibly detained native Alaskans during World War II. Retrieved from https://tinyurl.com/y9aqpqhf.