The Census Bureau was deeply involved in the roundup and internment of Japanese Americans. Included identifying concentrations of people of Japanese ancestry in geographic units as small as city blocks and a willingness to disclose names and addresses
Source: Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Hearst Seattle Media, LLC
WASHINGTON -- Two scholars say in a new research paper that despite earlier denials, the Census Bureau was deeply involved in the roundup and internment of Japanese Americans at the onset of U.S. entry into World War II.
The academics say the Census Bureau's involvement included identifying concentrations of people of Japanese ancestry in geographic units as small as city blocks, lending a senior Census Bureau official to work with the War Department on the relocation program and a willingness to disclose names and address of Japanese Americans.
While it is common today for the Census Bureau to publish reports that detail the number of people of a given race living in an area as small as a city block, such information was generally not available in the 1940s. But the authors of the paper contend that the Census Bureau provided such detailed information as well as age, sex, citizenship and country of birth to the War Department, now the Defense Department, on only one group -- Japanese Americans.
In 1941 and '42, the paper says, Census Bureau officials believed that such information was valuable to the War Department's effort in rounding up Americans of Japanese ancestry.
The paper, "After Pearl Harbor: The Proper Role of Population Data Systems in Time of War," was written by William Seltzer, a statistician and demographer at Fordham University, and Margo Anderson, a history professor at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee whose area of expertise is the census.
Seltzer and Anderson plan to present the paper at the annual meeting of the Population Association of America next week in Los Angeles.
The practices described in the paper did not appear to have violated laws governing the census, which prohibit the bureau from disclosing information on individuals. But the authors indicated that Census Bureau officials appeared to be willing to provide such data. What is not clear is whether they were asked to do so.
"We're by law required to keep confidential information by individuals," the paper quotes the director of the Census Bureau, J.C. Capt, as saying at a meeting of the Census Advisory Committee in January 1942. But if the defense authorities found 200 Japanese Americans missing and they wanted the names of the Japanese Americans in that area, Capt said, "I would give them further means of checking individuals."
The Census Bureau often boasted that its conduct in the relocation of Japanese Americans had been its finest hour because it resisted pressure to provide explicit data to the War and Justice Departments.
But Census Bureau officials do not dispute the findings of the paper. They say, however, that the strengthening of the laws protecting the confidentiality of data on individuals and the environment today would make a repeat of those abuses unlikely.
Japanese Americans have long suspected that the Census Bureau played a prominent role in the roundup and relocation of 120,000 residents of Japanese ancestry to detention camps in the interior.
"We've always suspected this," said Norman Mineta, a former California congressman who was relocated with his family from San Jose to a detention camp in Wyoming. "After all, they are the keeper of this kind of information."
On Dec. 9, 1941, two days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Census Bureau produced a report titled, "Japanese Population of the United States, Its Territories and Possessions." The next day it issued a report on the Japanese population by citizenship and place of birth in selected cities. The next day it published another report, this one on the Japanese population by counties in states on the West Coast. All reports were based on data from the 1940 census.
Capt justified the speed with which the bureau produced these reports by saying at meeting of the Census Advisory Committee in January 1942: "We didn't want to wait for the declaration of war. On Monday morning we put our people to work on the Japanese thing."
The United States declared war on Japan that Monday afternoon.
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