Petitioner Art Shibayama, who was 86 years old at the time of the hearing, was the first to testify. Art was just 13 years old when he and his family were seized from their home, deported to the U.S. and interned in Crystal City, Texas.
Art shared that during the Shibayamas’ entire two-and-a-half year internment, Art’s father planned to return his family to Peru. However, at the end of their imprisonment, Peru would not admit them back. Classified as “illegal aliens” by the U.S. government, the family fought deportation to war-devastated Japan and was sent to Seabrook Farms, New Jersey to work as laborers.
Later, Art was drafted by the U.S. Army in 1952 when he was still classified as an “illegal alien.” While serving during the Korean War, he applied for U.S. citizenship. However, he was denied due to his “illegal entry” into the country.
Although Art eventually obtained U.S. citizenship in 1970, he continued to feel vulnerable.
“Since I was classified as an ‘illegal alien’ which I never was, I want the government to erase my illegal alien status from my records. I don’t want the government to use it against me in the future.”
In response to Commissioner Macaulay’s question about what Art and his brothers were trying to accomplish through their pursuit of reparations, Art shared that they wanted to stop what had happened to them from ever happening again to any group of innocent people.
Bekki Shibayama followed her father’s testimony. She shared how she felt betrayed by her country and fearful for her own safety when she learned about her father’s wartime experiences.
“Suddenly, the words ‘with liberty and justice for all’ that I had recited every morning in my classroom rang hollow… My father and his family had done nothing wrong. Being of Japanese descent was their only ‘supposed crime’.”
She further detailed the impact of the internment on her grandfather, who spent the rest of his life struggling to regain the success, wealth, and stature that he had achieved in Peru. Tragically, he never did.
“To this day, my family and I believe that the U.S. government killed my grandfather’s spirit. From the time of his capitulation forward, he was never the same man.”
Bekki wants the U.S. government to acknowledge its wrongdoings and provide educational funds and full disclosure of the Japanese Latin American internment.
Attorney Paul Mills began his argument on behalf of the petitioners by declaring that the U.S. government had not disputed any of the petitioners’ evidence.
Paul later read from the petitioners’ submitted evidence, a report written by the U.S. Congress after its investigation into the wartime relocation and internment of civilians:
“When these people were brought by force from Peru to the United States aboard U.S. flagged vessels, their passports, any kind of proof of citizenship of any nation, was demanded of them and never returned. Then, when they arrived in the U.S., the United States of America put them through sham proceedings in which they were asked to produce citizenship documents and of course they didn’t have them because the USA had already taken them.”
Attorney Mills pleaded for an expedited ruling given that this is an extraordinary case where the evidence is not disputed. Due to the age of the petitioners, they will not benefit from the commission’s ruling unless there is a swift decision. In addition, Paul asked the commission to expedite its decision as it could impact the current administration’s policies and executive orders.
“And in the name of humanity and the petitioners, I beg the commission to add its voice as swiftly as possible to those who urge the United States to respect the principles of international law and use this case which so closely relates to what’s going on today. As you’ve learned in this case, the USA used its power to strip people of their rights of citizenship for its own purposes.”
Grace Shimizu, the Organizational Petitioner for Japanese Peruvian Oral History Project, spoke last and implored the commission to rule in favor of the Shibayama brothers.
“Art and his brothers were forced out of their home and their country… They were rendered stateless… They were put in detention indefinitely… This is not what should happen to any human being, and it shouldn’t happen to children.”
With regard to redress, Grace requested that the Commission look to the world scene at human rights violations and the types of justice that people have received. Any that are applicable to the Shibayama brothers should be applied. Grace declared that the standard for redress should not be lowered.
In closing, Commissioner Macaulay stated it was a shame that the U.S. government did not appear at the hearing.
“We cannot accept such violations of rights, which are part of the declaration by which we can hold the United States accountable…We assure you that the commission will think very seriously about what we can do and cannot do.”
IACHR President Eguiguren, who is from Peru, offered a personal apology to Art in Spanish.
“I sympathize with you over the unfair treatment and conditions you’ve lived through, and you were brought here from my country. I would like to extend an apology.”
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