Funding for a grant to preserve the history of World War II-era Japanese-American incarceration has been secured for the 2018 fiscal year, but President Donald Trump’s proposed 2019 budget declines to request funding for the program.
Trump signed the bill Friday after threatening to veto it in a tweet that morning.
“This history was a dark period in our country’s past, which is why we have a solemn responsibility to ensure these sites are preserved," California Democrat Rep. Doris Matsui, who sent a letter co-signed by 57 members of Congress in support of the grant to the House Appropriations Committee, said in a March 19 statement. "I’m pleased that there is bipartisan support for this funding in Congress, which will play a critical role in allowing future generations to better recognize history’s greatest lessons.”
In 2006, Congress authorized up to $38 million for the life of the grant. Appropriations began in 2009, with funding levels at about $2 million per year. The grant has since provided more than $21 million of funding for the research and preservation of World War II-era incarceration camps, collections centers, and Department of Justice prisons.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, whose department oversees the program, faced some criticism last week from lawmakers after saying “konnichiwa” to Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, D-Hawaii, while being questioned about the grant last week.
"Rather than greet her like he would any other Member of Congress, he responded to her as if she did not speak any English," California Democrat Rep. Judy Chu, chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, said in a statement. "Whether intentional or not, his comments invoke the offensive stereotype that Asian Americans are perpetual foreigners regardless of how long their families have lived in the United States."
Zinke defended his statement on Saturday, saying “How could ever saying ‘Good morning’ be bad?"
Japanese-American activists had been lobbying for the restoration of the grant — which was signed into law by former President George W. Bush and has funded a variety of books, films, oral histories, and exhibits, among other project — arguing that it is a critical period as survivors of World War II incarceration are growing older.
“A lot of it goes into preserving the stories of people who were incarcerated, and a lot of those people are dying right now,” David Inoue, executive director of the Japanese American Citizens League, said earlier in March. “So that’s why it’s imperative that we do keep funding going. There’s always the possibility that we could restart funding in a year if it’s cut this year, but the problem is how many possible people whose stories haven’t been preserved will have been lost in that one year?”
CORRECTION (March 24, 2018, 11:16 a.m. ET): An earlier version of this article misstated the timing of the funding for the Japanese American Confinement Sites grant program. Funding was approved for the remainder of fiscal year 2018, not fiscal year 2019.