Art (Isamu) Shibayama died at the age of 88 with his dream for social justice unfulfilled.
Northwest Asian Weekly reports he died July 31st after years of fighting for reparations for 2,000 Japanese Americans who were uprooted from their homes in Peru and held hostage during WWII by the Immigration and Naturalization Service. They were taken to Crystal City, Texas and held prisoner so that they could be used in prisoner of war exchanges with Japan.
“How can I be illegal when we didn’t want to come here in the first place, and the government brings us, brings us here, forces us to come here, and they bring us at gunpoint?” he asked during an interview with Discover Nikkei, according to the New York Times.
After the war, the U.S. threaten to deport his family to Japan. Instead, with the help of the ACLU, his father got a job on a frozen vegetable packing factory in New Jersey. They were paroled and settled in the town of Seabrook.
The Times reports Shibayama was still classified as an illegal immigrant in 1952 when he was drafted into the army and deployed to Germany. After his honorable discharge, he was advised to travel to Canada and renter the United States from there. Northwest Asian Weekly says he became a citizen in 1972.
Shibayama applied for reparations with other Japanese Americans in 1988. He was denied because only those who were citizens or permanent residents during the war were eligible.
Years later, reparations of $5,000 were awarded to Japanese Latin Americans. This was $15,000 less than what Japanese Americans received. He declined the payment and instead unsuccessfully sued in federal court. In 2002, along with his two brothers, he filed a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 2002. 16 years later, no decision has been made.
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