Santa Cruz County History - Executive Order 9066 and the Residents of Santa Cruz County



Alien Land Laws
by Rechs Ann Pedersen

California land laws had been passed prior to World War II and were in effect throughout the War. They denied "aliens ineligible to citizenship" land ownership rights given to citizens and other aliens. "Aliens ineligible to citizenship" meant Asian aliens since they were the ones who were ineligible for naturalization under U.S. immigration laws. The Alien Land Law of 1913 (also known as the Webb-Heney Bill) provided that:

"Aliens not eligible for citizenship and corporations in which the majority of the stock was owned by ineligible aliens had to comply with the land ownership provisions of any treaty existing between the countries involved. The U.S.-Japan Treaty of 1911 made no mention of any right of Japanese aliens to own land." 1

It also provided that the State could take over any land found to be in violation of the law.

A family picking strawberries on the White Ranch near Freedom Blvd. in the 1920s.
A family picking strawberries on the White Ranch
near Freedom Blvd. in the 1920s.
(Photograph courtesy of Bill Tao.)

The Alien Land Law of 1920 enacted further restrictions. It prohibited the transfer of land to noncitizens by sale or lease. Aliens not eligible for citizenship could not hold land in guardianship for their children who were citizens. If it was determined that land was purchased in one person's name, but with money from an Asian alien, the land would automatically become state property. "Despite the punitive provision of the Alien Land Laws, evasions were largely ignored. Between 1912 and 1946, only seventy-six escheat proceedings were filed in California under the Alien Land Laws."2

Although court proceedings may have been infrequent, strengthening and enforcing alien land laws was an issue during the War.

Strengthening the Law

June 8, 1943:

'TEETH' PUT IN JAP ALIEN LAND LAW
Sacramento (UP) - Gov. Earl Warren Tuesday signed the Engle bill (8B140) putting more "teeth" into the alien land law of 1920 designed to prevent Japanese from farming in the manner they used before the war. (Watsonville Register-Pajaronian June 8, 1943 p. 1.Full-Text)

July 11, 1945:

STATE GETS MORE POWER TO SEIZE ALIEN LAND HOLDINGS
[The] state's power to seize alien property holdings under the alien land act was strengthened by two bills signed by Gov. Earl. Warren. ... One of the bills removes the time limit on the state's prosecution of cases under the 1920 law, affecting cases involving agricultural property worth hundreds of thousands of dollars... The other gives the attorney general power to instruct district attorneys to assist in alien land law cases.(Watsonville Register-Pajaronian. July 11, 1945. p.3.)

Local Support for Alien Land Laws

Local newspapers do not indicate popular stand on alien land laws. They were on the books and there was no public call to repeal them. The Santa Cruz Board of Supervisors publicly supported them.

May 14, 1944:

SUPERVISORS APPROVE LOS ANGELES LEGAL EFFORT TO RETURN TO STATE ALL JAPANESE-OWNED FARM LAND
The county supervisors last week went on record as approving the legal action filed by Los Angeles county to return all Japanese farm land to the state. At the same time the supervisors approved a letter from Santa Cruz Parlor of Native Sons of the Golden West back the action taken by the southern county. (Santa Cruz Sentinel-News. May 14, 1944. p.10)

Monterey Bay Area Case

May 20, 1944:

3 JAP EVACUEES FACE MONTEREY CO. LAND CHARGE
Criminal complaints charging conspiracy to violate the alien property act of 1920 were filed against three Japanese in superior court at Salinas Friday by Monterey County District Attorney Anthony Brazil. (Watsonville Register-Pajaronian. May 20, 1944. p.1. Full- Text)

March 10, 1945:

JAP ALIEN LAND CASE TRIAL IN MONTEREY COUNTY
Action to declare an escheat (or reverting) to the state of Monterey County land previously farmed by Yeizo Ikeda has been submitted on briefs to Superior Judge A.G. Jorgensen after a trial in Salinas. Action was brought against Ikeda by the state of California through Dist.-Atty. Anthony Brazil over 72 acres of land, valued at $40,000, located in the Carr flat. The district attorney claimed the property which has been standing in the name of Toshi Hanzone, a citizen, was in reality owned by Ikeda and therefore was a violation of the alien land laws.(Watsonville Register-Pajaronian. March 10, 1945. p.1.)

August 29, 1945:

STATE GIVEN JAP LAND IN SALINAS AREA
Approximately 72 acres of farm land Wednesday is under state ownership following an alien land law decision against Yeizo Ikeda, a Japanese alien at Salinas. Superior Judge H.G. Jorgensen awarded the land to the state Tuesday. (Watsonville Register-Pajaronian. August 29, 1945. p.1.)

End of California Alien Land Laws

In 1952, the California Supreme Court found the Alien Land Law of 1913 unconstitutional in Fujii Sei v. State of California. In 1956, all Alien Land Laws were repealed in California by popular vote.3


Footnotes:

  1. Okutsu, James. "Asian Land Laws." Asian American Encyclopedia. Marshall Cavendish, 1995. Vol. 1, p.16.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid. Vol. 1, p.18.

Additional Information:

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internment camps, Japanese Americans, racism

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