Seventy-five years ago, US President Franklin D Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 which authorised the imprisonment of Japanese Americans. Roughly 120,000 Japanese immigrants and Japanese-Americans were sent to desolate camps that dotted the West because the government claimed they might plot against the US. Thousands were elderly, disabled, children or infants too young to know the meaning of treason. Two-thirds were citizens. The United States had entered World War Two after Japan's surprise attack on Pearl Harbor about three months earlier.

A year-long exhibition of photos – many by famed photographers Ansel Adams and Dorothea Lange – has opened at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History in Washington, DC. They show the dislocation and loss of freedom of these American citizens who had been uprooted from their homes.

Neatly dressed men in jackets and ties queuing on city streets next to luggage and sacks on their way to camps. Children sitting on bundles of their families' belongings. Dusty and desolate barracks. A detainee driving a tractor in a prison camp field. Neatly dressed men lining up for lunch at Manzanar War Relocation Centre, now a national historical site.

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March 1942: A large sign reading 'I am an American' is seen in the window of a store at 13th and Franklin streets in Oakland, California. The stores owner, a University of California graduate of Japanese descent, put the sign up on 8 December 1941 – the day after the Pearl Harbor attacks. His store was closed and he was housed in War Relocation Authority centres for the duration of the warDorothea Lange/Farm Security Administration and Office of War Information Collection/Library of Congress/Reuters
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April 1942: Residents of Japanese ancestry wait for the bus at the Wartime Civil Control station in San FranciscoDorothea Lange/Farm Security Administration and Office of War Information Collection/Library of Congress/Reuters
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Baggage belonging to evacuees of Japanese ancestry sits at an assembly centre in Salinas, CaliforniaDorothea Lange/Farm Security Administration and Office of War Information Collection/Library of Congress/Reuters
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A young evacuee of Japanese ancestry waits with the family baggage before leaving by bus for an assembly centre in California in April 1942Clem Albers/Department of the Interior/War Relocation Authority/National Archives/Reuters
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June 1942: A boy in San Francisco waits for the bus that will take him and his family to a relocation centre for the duration of the warDorothea Lange/Farm Security Administration and Office of War Information Collection/Library of Congress/Reuters
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People load their luggage onto a bus heading to the Manzanar War Relocation Centre in CaliforniaAnsel Adams/Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-A35-4-M-10/Reuters
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A bird's-eye view of the Manzanar War Relocation Centre in California from the guard tower, showing buildings, roads, and the Sierra Nevada mountains in the backgroundAnsel Adams/Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-A35-4-M-10/Reuters
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A mess line is formed in front of a building at midday at the Manzanar War Relocation Centre in CaliforniaAnsel Adams/Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-A35-4-M-10/Reuters
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Benji Iguchi drives a tractor in a field at the Manzanar War Relocation Centre in California, in 1943Ansel Adams/Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-A35-4-M-10/Reuters
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A marble monument with an inscription that reads, 'Monument for the Pacification of Spirits' is seen in the cemetery at the Manzanar War Relocation Centre in California, in 1943Ansel Adams/Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-A35-4-M-10/Reuters

The story of the camps and the people confined in them, the result of wartime racial profiling, is an underreported chapter in US history.

President Franklin D Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on 19 February 1942, to protect against espionage and sabotage. Notices appeared ordering people of Japanese descent to report to civil stations for transport. Desperate families sold off belongings for cheap and packed what they could. The luckier ones had white friends who agreed to care for houses, farms and businesses in their absence.

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April 1942: First-graders pledge allegiance to the United States flag at the Weill public school in San Francisco. The children of Japanese ancestry were to be housed in war relocation authority centres for the duration of the warDorothea Lange/Farm Security Administration and Office of War Information Collection/Library of Congress/Reuters
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April 1942: Residents of Japanese ancestry line up for registration in San FranciscoDorothea Lange/Farm Security Administration and Office of War Information Collection/Library of Congress/Reuters
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April 1942: Members of the Japanese independent congregational church attend Easter services prior to the evacuation of persons of Japanese ancestry in Oakland, CaliforniaDorothea Lange/Farm Security Administration and Office of War Information Collection/Library of Congress/Reuters
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A dust storm at the Manzanar War Relocation Centre in California, in July 1942Dorothea Lange/Farm Security Administration and Office of War Information Collection/Library of Congress/Reuters
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A view of the quarters at the Manzanar War Relocation Centre in CaliforniaDorothea Lange/Farm Security Administration and Office of War Information Collection/Library of Congress/Reuters
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Roy Takeno stands behind a table addressing a town hall meeting with an American flag on the wall behind him at the Manzanar War Relocation Centre in California in 1943Ansel Adams/Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-A35-4-M-10/Reuters
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Toyo Miyatake stands in his children's bedroom looking at his young daughter drawing at a desk, while her mother stands behind her, at the Manzanar War Relocation Centre in California in 1943Ansel Adams/Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-A35-4-M-10/Reuters
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Kiyo Yoshida, Lillian Wakatsuki and Yoshiko Yamasaki sit in a biology classroom at the Manzanar War Relocation Centre in California in 1943Ansel Adams/Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-A35-4-M-10/Reuters
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Sumiko Shigematsu supervises a row of women seated at sewing machines at the Manzanar War Relocation Centre in California in 1943Ansel Adams/Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-A35-4-M-10/
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Three school children stand against a wall at the Manzanar War Relocation Centre in California in 1943Ansel Adams/Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-A35-4-M-10/Reuters
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Mr and Mrs Henry J. Tsurutani and baby Bruce are pictured at the Manzanar War Relocation Centre in California in 1943Ansel Adams/Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-A35-4-M-10/Reuters
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Florence Kuwata smiles during baton practice at the Manzanar War Relocation Centre in California in 1943Ansel Adams/Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-A35-4-M-10/Reuters
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Students seated in a classroom laboratory listen to a science instructor at the Manzanar War Relocation Centre in California in 1943Ansel Adams/Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-A35-4-M-10/Reuters
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Mrs Ryie Yoshizawa and a class of students sit at a table looking at fashion magazines and patterns at the Manzanar War Relocation Centre in California. The students are: Satoko Oka, Chizuko Karnii, Takako Nakanishi, Kikiyo Yamasuchi, Masako Kimochita, Mitsugo Fugi, Mie Mio, Chiye Kawase, and Miyeko HoshozikeAnsel Adams/Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-A35-4-M-10/Reuters
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Roy Takeno, standing, addresses a group of men gathered for a town hall meeting at the Manzanar War Relocation Centre in California in 1943Ansel Adams/Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-A35-4-M-10/Reuters
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A nurse tends to four infants in cots at the Manzanar War Relocation Centre in California in 1943Ansel Adams/Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-A35-4-M-10/Reuters
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Ester Naite, an office worker from Los Angeles, irons in her quarters at the Manzanar War Relocation Centre in CaliforniaDorothea Lange/Farm Security Administration and Office of War Information Collection/Library of Congress/Reuters
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M Ogi, S Sugimoto, and Bunkichi Hayashi stand among shelves and boxes in a warehouse at the Manzanar War Relocation Centre in California in 1943Ansel Adams/Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-A35-4-M-10/Reuters

Joyce Okazaki (née Nakamura) was seven years old in 1942 when her family left their Los Angeles home and reported to a World War Two internment camp for Japanese Americans in California's remote desert. She recalls crowded rooms filled with cots and embarrassment that the toilets at Manzanar War Relocation Centre had no privacy. "Like Nazi Germany, we Japanese Americans were put into concentration camps," said Okazaki, now 82, while recognising that detainees were not killed or tortured. "We were constantly under threat if we went near the barbed wire fences."

Okazaki's experience is captured in a photograph of her and her sister and their mother at Manzanar, an image preserved in a Library of Congress archive. Okazaki recalls a life of fear in the camp. "With barbed-wire fences and guard towers and sentries with rifles manning them, you become scared," she said.

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Mrs Yaeko Nakamura holds hands with her daughters Joyce and Louise as they walk under a pavilion in a park at the Manzanar War Relocation Centre in California in 1943Ansel Adams/Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-A35-4-M-10/Reuters

Okazaki and her family left in July 1944. Their families were required to swear a loyalty oath to the United States to regain their freedom. Okazaki objects to the term internment and prefers incarceration or imprisonment. "I was not an internee because I am a citizen. The definition of internment refers to enemy aliens in time of war," she said.

Actor George Takei, who played Sulu in the 1960s television show Star Trek, recalls arriving at a camp at Santa Anita Park horse racetrack, just a short trip from his Los Angeles home. "When we were first ordered out of our homes by the soldiers, we were taken to Santa Anita racetrack and herded over with other Japanese American families to the stable area and assigned a horse stall for us to sleep in. From a two-bedroom home on Garnet Street in Los Angeles to a smelly – I mean, it was pungent with horse manure."

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Evacuees of Japanese descent among a contingent of 664, the first to be removed from San Francisco, awaiting buses at 2020 Van Ness Avenue to transport them to Santa Anita Park assembly centreDorothea Lange/Farm Security Administration and Office of War Information Collection/Library of Congress
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Evacuees of Japanese descent among a contingent of 664, the first to be removed from San Francisco, awaiting buses at 2020 Van Ness Avenue to transport them to Santa Anita Park assembly centreDorothea Lange/Farm Security Administration and Office of War Information Collection/Library of Congress

As survivors commemorate the 75th anniversary of the executive order that authorised their incarceration, they're speaking out to make sure that what happened to them doesn't happen to Muslims, Latinos or other groups. They're alarmed by recent executive orders from President Donald Trump that limit travel and single out immigrants. In January, Trump banned travellers from seven majority Muslim nations from entering the US, saying he wanted to thwart potential attackers from slipping into the country. Although a federal court halted the ban. Trump has said a he would issue a replacement order.

"On January 27, another president of the United States Donald Trump signed another executive order. That executive order had behind it the same animus and prejudice and ignorance that was in the first 9066 executive order. But it is a different America today. Immediately, massive crowds of Americans rushed to their airports, crammed into the airports, and resisted, opposed that executive order," said Takei.

The Japanese American Citizens League and other groups say the government used euphemisms such as "internment", "evacuation" and "non-alien" to hide the fact that US citizens were incarcerated and the Constitution violated. These groups say this White House has what they see as the same dangerous and flippant attitude toward the Constitution. Japanese-American politicians expressed horror when a Donald Trump supporter cited the camps as precedent for a Muslim registry.

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A display inside the Manzanar Museum shows a sign from the 1940s, reading: 'Japs Keep Moving - this is a White Man's Neighborhood'flickr.com/matthigh

The Japanese American Citizens League "vehemently" objected to executive orders signed by Trump last month, to build a wall along the Mexican border, punish "sanctuary" cities that protect people living in the country illegally, and limit refugees and immigrants from entering the country. "Although the threat of terrorism is real, we must learn from our history and not allow our fears to overwhelm our values," the statement read in part.

Orders against Japanese-Americans were revoked after the war ended in 1945. They returned to hostility and discrimination in finding work or places to live. A congressional commission formed in 1980 blamed the incarceration on "race prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership." In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill to compensate every survivor with a cheque for $20,000 (£16,114) and a formal apology from the US government.