The Civil Liberty Violations against Italian-Americans during World War 2
The Emigration of the Italian-American people is understood to be one of America’s great success stories. This is due in no small part to the values that Italians hold dear, such as dedication to family, strong work ethic, and love for their newly adopted country. And while the culture has flourished, the Italian-American journey through the late 19th, and a significant portion of the 20th century was paved with a history of serious injustices, economic loss and deep sorrow. Despite dark chapters where the Italian-American community suffered civil rights setbacks at the hands of both the civilian masses and the American government, Italians have continuously dedicated themselves to the greater good of the American public.
This body of research focuses on the wartime civil rights violations against Americans of Italian descent during World War 2. In detail, it discusses the effects of Presidential Proclamations 2525, 2526 and 2527, as well as Executive Order 9066. It also provides the road map for additional research into this historical event, as certain areas of history uncovered within our research require further study.
Executive Order 9066 – Timeline, Related Presidential Proclamations & Acts
The Alien Registration Act of 1940
With a World War looming, the Smith Act was passed on June 28, 1940 as Public Law 76-670. This required all alien residents of the United States 14 years or older (and remains in the United States for thirty days or longer) must apply for registration and be fingerprinted within 30 days of arriving in the United States. All existing alien residents were also required to register within thirty days of the passage of the act. When their native Italy declared war with their adopted homeland on December 11 1941, this sent a sense of foreboding through the Italian-American communities across the United States.
Presidential Proclamations 2525, 2526, and 2527
Following the surprise attack on the United States Naval Base at Pearl Harbor by Imperial Japan, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued Presidential Proclamation 2525. This was issued on the evening of the same day of the attack, and immediately proclaimed Americans of Japanese descent as enemy aliens. Proclamation 2525 details the immediate restrictions placed on enemy aliens. Proclamation 2526 (Germans) and Proclamation 2527 (Italians) were issued the next day, and incorporated all restrictions from proclamation 2525 into their wording with the following phrase:
“The regulations contained in Proclamation No. 2525 of December 7, 1941, relative to natives, citizens, denizens or subject of Japan are hereby incorporated in and made a part of this proclamation, and shall be applicable to alien enemies defined in this proclamation.”
The last sentence in section 4 of each of the three proclamations states
“All such agents, agencies, officers and departments are hereby granted full authority for all acts done by them in the execution of such regulations when acting by direction of the Attorney General or the Secretary of War, as the case may be.”
This statement provided all government personnel broad latitude in how to handle enemy aliens. Some of the resulting treatment included high school students being arrested and removed from class in full view of their classmates, homes raided in the middle of the night with a family member(s) sometimes being arrested & taken into custody with no explanation and no legal recourse. Other raids confiscated radios, cameras, and firearms. This was the sudden new life of an American of Italian descent beginning December 8th 1941– they were now an enemy alien within the borders of the United States.
Executive Order 9066 Issued on February 19, 1942
At this moment in time, Americans of Italian Heritage numbered approximately 5 million people. By February of 1942, over 600,000 Italian-Americans had been declared “enemy aliens”, and the Italian population was now under the watchful eye of the federal government. Enemy Alien status had already been designated by presidential proclamation 2527, and Executive Order 9066 reaffirmed that label.
Under this order, suspect Americans of Italian descent were subjected to many combinations of the following:
- Loss of constitutional rights.
- Arrest and interrogation without legal representation.
- Classified as “enemy aliens” and made to carry ID cards branding them as such.
- Were held incommunicado from their families in unknown locations with no access to legal help.
- Forced to abandon homes near the coast and move inland.
- Subjected to travel restrictions of no more than 5 miles from their residence.
- Subjected to forfeiture of property, businesses, and in some cases, commercial fishing fleet vessels.
- Loss of employment.
- Loss of the ability to further pursue their livelihood.
- Had financial assets frozen or confiscated.
- Internment in camps, usually with Japanese and German enemy aliens.
While this was affecting 600,000 peope under a massive cloak of secrecy, 1.5 million Italian-American men served and fought for the United States in World War 2. The sum total of 2.1 million out of 5 million people of Italian ancestry, which represented 42% of the Italian population in America at that time, were under various levels of lockdown, interned under special circumstances, or in uniform serving America in combat. By 1945, tens of thousands of young men of Italian ancestry had died fighting the Axis war machine.
At the close of the war, the files were kept archived and classified, and the Italian-Americans affected by Executive Order 9066 received nothing for their losses. They salvaged what opportunities they could find after the war and moved on. This history remained unknown to the American public for the rest of the 20th century.
President Clinton Authorizes the USDOJ to Investigate the Internment
Up until the beginning of the 21st Century, this history remained classified by the US Government. This began to change when a bill was introduced by Rep. Rick Lazio (R – 2nd District, New York) to the House on July 1, 1999, as HR 2442, and was titled the “Wartime Violation of Italian American Civil Liberties Act”. In a huge step forward in both transparency and accountability, the bill was agreed to by both chambers on October 24, 2000, and then signed into law by President Clinton on November 7, 2000. This became Public Law 106-451.
Public Law 106-451 tasked the United States Department of Justice (USDOJ) with the responsibility of declassifying secret files, and producing a thorough report that would reveal the truth and the scope of what happened to the Italian-American people during World War 2.
The US Department of Justice Delivers a Groundbreaking Report
The result came in November 2001 when the US Department of Justice published a 243 page report and submitted it to the 106th Congress of the United States. The report is called “A Review of the Restrictions on Persons of Italian Ancestry during World War 2”. We have obtained an original USDOJ bound copy of this groundbreaking report from the US Government Bookstore. This report is also available online as an archived version from the USDOJ, or in PDF format at the Tuna Canyon Detention Center.
The investigative power of the USDOJ bestowed the American people with an upfront and detailed account of the restrictions and civil rights losses experienced by hundreds of thousands of persons of Italian descent during World War 2. The US Department of Justice’s report turned out to be an extremely detailed expose. The report revealed the raids, confiscations, invasion of privacy, arrests without warrant, internments, and interrogations without counsel in extreme granularity. The report even records the pathways through various internment camps for many internees by name.
Italian-American Internment & Civil Liberties Violations Historical Inclusion Project
Due to its direct references to primary & original source documents, this project can serve as a source of reference material and a guide for students and parents. All pertinent supporting documentation is supplied by reference or direct link.
- PART 1 – Executive Order 9066 – Guide For Students Educators and Public Officials
- PART 2 – USDOJ Report: Executive Order 9066 & Americans of Italian Descent
- PART 3 – Italian-Americans in Service to the United States in World War 2
- PART 4 – Post-War Issues: Internment Questions, Assessments & Public Education
 National Endowment for the Humanities, found at https://www.neh.gov/humanities/2015/januaryfebruary/feature/what-sets-italian-americans-other-immigrants – Accessed on August 7, 2020.
 GovTrack Public Law found at https://govtrackus.s3.amazonaws.com/legislink/pdf/stat/54/STATUTE-54-Pg670.pdf – Accessed on September 27, 2020.
 US Citizenship & Immigration Service archives, found at https://www.uscis.gov/history-and-genealogy/genealogy/historical-record-series/alien-registration-forms-on-microfilm-1940-1944 and accessed on August 7, 2020.
 HR 2442 – Wartime Violation of Italian American Civil Liberties Act – available in the congressional bills archive at https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/BILLS-106hr2442enr/pdf/BILLS-106hr2442enr.pdf. Accessed on August 7, 2020.