Initiating a Case

Oyama v. California:

Confronting Alien Land Laws

Initiating a Case

In 1914, Kajiro Oyama moved from Japan to California. He wanted to own land but was unable to because of the Alien Land Law. In 1934, Kajiro bought a parcel of land titled to his son, Fred, and bought another in 1937 under his son’s name. Fred had birthright citizenship allowing him to assume ownership of the property, and since Fred was a minor, Kajiro was appointed his official guardian. During World War II, the Oyama family was forced to evacuate to Utah. While they were away, a petition was filed stating that the two parcels of land acquired in the 1930s were made in order to evade the Alien Land Law and should be escheated to the state. After returning to California, the Oyamas chose to challenge the Alien Land Law.

The Oyamas, ACLU San Diego

The case was taken up by the Japanese American Citizen League (JACL), and Counsel A.L. Wirin of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The petition had three charges against the law.

"1. It deprived Fred Oyama of the equal protection of the laws and of his privileges as an American citizen;

2. It denied Kajiro Oyama equal protection of the laws;

3. It violated the due process clause by sanctioning a taking of property after an appropriate period of limitation had expired."
~ ACLU San Diego

The case was first argued in early 1945, where the trial judge refused to examine the constitutionality of the Act and ruled against the Oyamas. In 1946, the case was appealed to the California Supreme Court. Testimonies from a court clerk and a white neighbor, John Kurfurt, were used as evidence to support the initial court’s findings and decision, upholding the barrier of land ownership posed by the Alien Land Law and overturning previous decisions authorizing Issei, first-generation Japanese immigrants, to serve as legal guardians for minors.

“Kurfurst had never heard the name Kajiro Oyama; he had always known the father of the family as “Fred” and stated that “everybody else called him Fred.”

“also that the father was running the boy's business. But he did not know whether the checks were made out to the “old man or the young fellow” and he did not know “whether the boy signed it or Mr. Oyama.”
~ People v. Oyama

Kajiro Oyama and A.L. Wirin, August 23, 1945, San Diego Journal