In an atmosphere of World War II hysteria, President Roosevelt, encouraged by officials at all levels of the federal government, authorized the internment of tens of thousands of American citizens of Japanese ancestry and resident aliens from Japan. Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, dated February 19, 1942, gave the military broad powers to ban any citizen from a fifty- to sixty-mile-wide coastal area stretching from Washington state to California and extending inland into southern Arizona. The order also authorized transporting these citizens to assembly centers hastily set up and governed by the military in California, Arizona, Washington state, and Oregon.
The order authorized the Secretary of War and U.S. armed forces commanders to declare areas of the United States as military areas "from which any or all persons may be excluded," although it did not name any nationality or ethnic group. It was eventually applied to one-third of the land area of the U.S. and was used against those with "Foreign Enemy Ancestry" — Japanese. As then California Attorney General Earl Warren put it, "When we are dealing with the Caucasian race we have methods that will test the loyalty of them. But when we deal with the Japanese, we are on an entirely different field." In Hawaii, where there were 140,000 Americans of Japanese Ancestry (constituting 37% of the population), only selected individuals of heightened perceived risk were interned.
A total of 10 internment camps were created under direction of the WRA (War Relocation Agency), mostly on Native American lands. Site selection was based upon multiple criteria including:
- Ability to provide work in public works, agriculture, manufacturing.
- Adequate transportation, power facilities, sufficient area of quality soil, water, and climate
- Able to house at least 5,000 people
- Public land
The WRA then released the following propoganda film, "A Challenge to Democracy".