After years of research, a Fordham University scholar and his colleague at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee have made public data that show that the U.S. Census Bureau provided information to American surveillance agencies during World War II to identify people of Japanese ancestry.
William Seltzer, a senior research scholar in Fordham’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology and Margo Anderson, Ph.D., professor of history and urban studies at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, said that their research confirms the bureau’s actions, despite decades of official denials.
The researchers, who first wrote in 2000 about the bureau’s role in the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, presented their findings at the annual meeting of the Population Association of America on March 30.
The study drew coverage in newspapers and magazines throughout the country when it was released and prompted the American Civil Liberties Union, the Japanese American Citizens League and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee to urge Congress to investigate and ensure that such practices do not occur today.
Seltzer and Anderson said the Census Bureau complied with a 1943 request by the U.S. Treasury Department for a list of all persons of Japanese ancestry in the Washington, D.C., area as recorded in the 1940 census. This information, collected under a pledge of confidentiality, was handed over in only seven days, according to the researchers, who said the bureau also disclosed information about other persons counted in the 1940 Census to the FBI as well as information about businesses and other establishments to war planning agencies, such as the Office of Emergency Management.
Whether the Census Bureau provided individually identifiable information on Japanese Americans during World War II has been a highly contested matter for decades and the controversy was reignited in 2004 when it was reported that the Census Bureau had provided zip-code level data from the 2000 census on persons of Arab American ancestry to the Department of Homeland Security.
The researchers said that the bureau broke no law because the Second War Powers Act permitted such disclosures, but the case has important implications for the upcoming 2010 census because the Census Bureau depends on public trust to get an accurate count. Seltzer and Anderson have called on the bureau to disavow its denials of the disclosures and to set the bureau’s historical record straight.