Presidential Proclamation 2527: Alien Enemies—Italians Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, US entry into World War II was certain, despite a long effort to maintain official neutrality. Fearful of another direct attack and concerned over possible spies within the nation's border, the US federal government instituted new policies placing legal restrictions on citizens of foreign countries at odds with the United States in the conflict. Even before war had been formally declared against the two main Axis powers, Germany and Italy, US president Franklin D. Roosevelt signed presidential proclamations authorizing the US Department of Justice to investigate and detain so-called enemy aliens of Japanese, German, and Italian descent resident within the nation's borders. As for Italian Americans, thousands were arrested over the course of the war, more than ten thousand on the West Coast were forced to leave their homes, and hundreds of thousands more experienced special legal scrutiny and restrictions on their activities.

Summary Overview

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, US entry into World War II was certain, despite a long effort to maintain official neutrality. Fearful of another direct attack and concerned over possible spies within the nation's border, the US federal government instituted new policies placing legal restrictions on citizens of foreign countries at odds with the United States in the conflict. Even before war had been formally declared against the two main Axis powers, Germany and Italy, US president Franklin D. Roosevelt signed presidential proclamations authorizing the US Department of Justice to investigate and detain so-called enemy aliens of Japanese, German, and Italian descent resident within the nation's borders. As for Italian Americans, thousands were arrested over the course of the war, more than ten thousand on the West Coast were forced to leave their homes, and hundreds of thousands more experienced special legal scrutiny and restrictions on their activities.

Defining Moment

Beginning in the late 1800s, Italian immigrants flocked to the United States seeking economic opportunity or joining family and friends who had already made the move. By the time of World War II, millions of Italian immigrants and their Italian American descendants populated the nation's cities. By 1940, Italians made up the single largest immigrant group residing in the United States; of the country's roughly 11.4 million foreign-born inhabitants, some 1.6 million originally hailed from Italy. Despite their ubiquity, Italian American immigrants experienced hostility from some native-born Americans. Immigrants also feared that their children would lose their cultural ties to Italy as they assimilated into US society and adopted American cultural practices. Indeed, many of these immigrants had become naturalized US citizens, but others—some hopeful of a return to their native country after saving up earnings, some too new to the United States to have completed the naturalization process, some simply long-standing residents who had never applied for naturalization—remained Italian nationals.

In Italy, fascist dictator Benito Mussolini had begun to build political power in the 1920s. Channeling a widespread popular belief among Italians that their contributions to World War I had gone underappreciated under the Treaty of Versailles, Mussolini appealed to Italian nationalism. His message of strong pride in Italian society and culture found support both domestically and among ethnic Italian communities in the United States. Some newspapers and radio programs intended for the Italian American audience praised Mussolini's government and its policies. As Italian actions increasingly generated concern among US leaders during the 1930s, however, these pro-Mussolini statements drew unwelcome attention to the Italian American community.

Worries over national security were running high by 1940, when US Congress passed the Alien Registration Act, which among other provisions required all foreign-born noncitizens to register with their local post offices. The federal government had also begun to develop a list of foreign nationals it believed might pose a threat to US interests, identifying both those who spoke in support of Axis governments or their policies and those who simply seemed to have a potentially strong psychological tie to native Axis lands. Mainstream popular opinion increasingly turned toward the Allies as the Axis thrust through Europe showed the powers' desire to gobble up land and subjugate neighboring peoples. Although the United States maintained an official position of neutrality, the American war machine began to mobilize. US defense plants built arms, ammunition, and vehicles for sale to Allied countries. Most Americans came to believe that supporting Great Britain against Axis attack was vital to US security. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor then cemented US sentiment against the Axis powers and thrust the country into war.

Author Biography

President Franklin D. Roosevelt approved Presidential Proclamation 2527 in a time of great international tumult. Roosevelt, by then in an unprecedented third term as president, had guided the nation through the challenges of the Great Depression and for years maintained a high awareness of the potential threats to the United States posed by the rise of dictatorships in Europe during the 1930s. Roosevelt had sought in the late 1930s to generate support among the American public for the Allied, and especially British, cause while balancing the political necessity of maintaining official neutrality in a time when isolationist sentiment ran high. Roosevelt worried that Mussolini and the Axis alliance formed a threat to national security and democratic ideals around the world, and saw resisting the aggression of the Axis powers as key to hemispheric security even though their strongholds lay far from US territory.

Historical Document

WHEREAS it is provided by Section 21 of Title 50 of the United States Code [11 F. C. A., tit. 50, § 21] as follows: “Whenever there is a declared war between the United States and any foreign nation or government, or any invasion or predatory incursion is perpetrated, attempted, or threatened against the territory of the United States by any foreign nation or government, and the President makes public proclamation of the event, all natives, citizens, denizens, or subjects of the hostile nation or government, being of the age of fourteen years and upward, who shall be within the United States and not actually naturalized, shall be liable to be apprehended, restrained, secured, and removed as alien enemies. The President is authorized in any such event, by his proclamation thereof, or other public act, to direct the conduct to be observed, on the part of the United States, toward the aliens who become so liable; the manner and degree of the restraint to which they shall be subject and in what cases, and upon what security their residence shall be permitted, and to provide for the removal of those who, not being permitted to reside within the United States, refuse or neglect to depart therefrom; and to establish any other regulations which are found necessary in the premises and for the public safety.”

AND WHEREAS by sections 22, 23, and 24 of title 50 of the United States Code [11 F. C. A., tit. 50, §§ 22 to 24] further provision is made relative to alien enemies:

PROCLAMATION

NOW, THEREFORE, I, FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT, as PRESIDENT of the United States and as Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, do hereby make public proclamation to all whom it may concern that an invasion of predatory incursion is threatened upon the territory of the United States by Italy.

CONDUCT TO BE OBSERVED BY ALIEN ENEMIES

And, acting under and by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution of the United States and the said sections of the United States Code, I do hereby further proclaim and direct that the conduct to be observed on the part of the United States toward all natives, citizens, denizens or subjects of Italy being of the age of fourteen years and upwards who shall be within the United States or within any territories in any way subject to the jurisdiction of the United States and not actually naturalized, who for the purpose of this Proclamation and under such sections of the United States Code are termed alien enemies, shall be as follows:

All alien enemies are enjoined to preserve the peace toward the United States and to refrain from crime against public safety, and from violating the laws of the United States and of the States and Territories thereof; and to refrain from actual hostility or giving information, aid or comfort to the enemies of the United States or interfering by word or deed with the defense of the United States or political processes and public opinions thereof; and to comply strictly with the regulations which are hereby or which may be from time to time promulgated by the President.

All alien enemies shall be liable to restraint, or to give security, or to remove and depart from the United States in the manner prescribed by sections 23 and 24 of title 50 of the United States Code, and as prescribed in the regulations duly promulgated by the President.

DUTIES AND AUTHORITY OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL AND THE SECRETARY OF WAR

And, pursuant to the authority vested in me, I hereby charge the Attorney General with the duty of executing all the regulations hereinafter prescribed regarding the conduct of alien enemies within the continental limits of the United States, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Alaska, and the Secretary of War with the duty of executing the regulations which are hereinafter prescribed and which may be hereafter adopted regarding the conduct of alien enemies in the Canal Zone, the Hawaiian Islands and the Philippine Islands. Each of them is specifically directed to cause the apprehension of such alien enemies as in the judgment of each are subject to apprehension or deportation under such regulations. In carrying out such regulations within the continental United States, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Alaska, the Attorney General is authorized to utilize such agents, agencies, officers and departments of the United States and of the several states, territories, dependencies, municipalities thereof and of the District of Columbia as he may select for the purpose. Similarly the Secretary of War in carrying out such regulations in the Canal Zone, the Hawaiian Islands and the Philippine Islands is authorized to use such agents, agencies, officers and departments of the United States and of the territories, dependencies and municipalities thereof as he may select for the purpose. 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.

REGULATIONS

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.

This proclamation and the regulations herein prescribed shall extend and apply to all land and water, continental or insular, in any way within the jurisdiction of the United States.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States of America to be affixed.

DONE at the City of Washington this 8th day of December, in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and forty-one, and of the Independence of the United States of America one hundred and sixty-sixth.

FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT

Document Analysis

Presidential Proclamation 2527, restricting the actions of Italian nationals residing within US territory, was the third in a series of similar orders applying individually to Japanese, German, and Italian Americans. All three of these proclamations were issued in response to fears among political leaders and the American public that some immigrants to the United States might feel a greater loyalty to the lands of their birth—then engaged in hostilities with the United States—than to their adopted homeland. To this end the language of the document reflects a primary goal of maintaining national security by stating that the affected aliens are “enjoined to preserve the peace… to refrain from crime against public safety.… and to refrain from actual hostility or giving information, aid or comfort to the enemies of the United States or interfering by word or deed with the defense of the United States.”

Much of the proclamation draws on the language and tenets of the Alien Enemy Act of 1798, one of the controversial Alien and Sedition Acts passed not long after American independence. This law grants the president the right to detain, imprison, or deport so-called alien enemies—nonnaturalized immigrants or citizens of countries engaged in hostilities against the United States aged at least fourteen years—in order to protect public safety. Proclamation 2527 thus asserts that the Axis country of Italy presents a direct threat to the United States, and that therefore its nationals resident within US borders are deemed alien enemies and thus subject to detention, internment, deportation, and other regulations. These regulations reflect those established under Presidential Proclamation 2525 restricting the activities of Japanese Americans, and broadly limit the ability of those deemed alien enemies to travel, change jobs, enter any area determined by the authorities to be potentially sensitive, or own goods such as radios, cameras, or weapons.

The proclamation further placed the administration of its orders under the jurisdiction of the US military and the US Department of Justice, which in turn allocated implementation to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). Affected aliens were required to register and report their activities to these agencies, and faced the very real possibility of hearings or detention. The order thus gave the federal government and military great power over the civil rights of affected Italian Americans, an action that historians have questioned as a challenge to US ideals and constitutional protections.

Essential Themes

The issuance of Proclamation 2527 immediately transformed some 600,000 Italian Americans from simple immigrant residents of the United States to alien enemies subject to special limitations and lacking in the civil rights of their naturalized neighbors. Of these, some 1,500 had already been identified as possible security threats and placed on a “custodial detention list” by the FBI. These people soon came under the spotlight and were forced to prove their innocence at hearings or face detention or internment. Even those Italian nationals who had done nothing to excite suspicion were required to abide by the limits of the proclamation, and face the distrust of the country that some of them had called home for decades.

Italian Americans along the West Coast, where enforcement of the provisions of the proclamation were stricter, faced particular challenges. The designation of military zones forced about 10,000 Italian nationals who resided in districts from which they were now barred to leave their homes. Curfews limited the movements of about 52,000 Italian immigrants who remained in the region between dusk and dawn. Across the country, Italian immigrants suspected of sympathizing with the enemy or who refused to surrender belongings restricted under the proclamation, such as shortwave radios, flashlights, or cameras, faced internment. Restrictions on alien enemies increased in early 1942 with the issuance of Executive Order 9066, which was largely used to detain Japanese Americans in internment camps. Although only about 250 out of millions of Italian Americans were interned, every noncitizen Italian faced some level of formal suspicion and was required to again register with the government in 1942. Some Italian Americans deemed security threats were forced to return to Italy, where the Italian government also often treated them as possible dangers—this time, as potential spies for their adopted homeland of the United States.

Today, Italian American internment and investigation remains less well-known than that of the more widespread and intensive surveillance and detention of Japanese Americans. Nevertheless, the US government and historians alike have recognized that these policies violated Italian Americans' civil rights. Nearly sixty years after the program began, the US Congress passed a resolution formally recognizing this failing, and President Bill Clinton signed the Wartime Violation of Italian American Civil Liberties Act into law on November 7, 2000.

Bibliography and Additional Reading
  • Behen, Scott M. “German and Italian Internment.” Encyclopedia of Immigration and Migration in the American West. Ed. Gordon Morris Bakken and Alexandra Kindell. Vol. 1. Thousand Oaks: Sage, 2006. Print.
  • “Brief Overview of the World War II Enemy Alien Control Program.” National Archives. US Natl. Archives and Records Administration, 2014. Web. 14 Oct. 2014.
  • DiStasi, Lawrence. Una Storia Segreta: The Secret History of Italian American Evacuation and Internment during World War II. Berkeley: Heydey, 2001. Print.
  • TenBroek, Jacobus, Edward N. Barnhart, and Floyd W. Matson. Prejudice, War, and the Constitution. Berkeley: U of California P, 1954. Print.
Categories: History Content