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California’s Alien Land Laws

May 03, 2024 (1 min read)

Sara Rimer, EJI, May 3, 2024

"... On May 3, 1913, California enacted the Alien Land Law, designed to deny Japanese families their foothold in America by denying them the right to own land. The law was tightened in 1920 and 1927 to bar Asian immigrants, their American-born children, and even corporations run by Asian immigrants from leasing and owning land. The penalty for conspiring to evade the law was up to two years in prison. The law was supported by the California press, the Japanese and Korean Exclusion League, and the Anti-Jap Laundry League. Those two groups, founded by labor unions, claimed tens of thousands of members. ... Fred Oyama, born in the U.S., was six when his father put the family’s Chula Vista vegetable farm in his name. In 1944, with the Oyamas living in an internment camp in Utah, California prosecutors tried to seize the family’s land. Even after his family was forced into a camp, Mr. Oyama would recall later, he remained intent on proving his loyalty to the U.S. and “looked forward to joining the service.” That is—until the property was escheated. “I could never be hostile to the U.S.A.,” wrote Mr. Oyama, who had become a middle school math teacher, “but I was bitterly disappointed and felt like a man without a country.” Mr. Oyama and his lawyers lost in California courts but took their case to the U.S. Supreme Court—which ruled in his favor in 1948. The 6-3 decision gutted the Alien Land Law, and eight years later it was repealed."