October 2016

The topic of illegal immigrants continues to be a hot issue in the current national political onslaught. Millions are in the country without documentation. Not to forget WWII when Italian Americans who were in the country legally were treated as “enemy aliens.” Italian American servicemen were fighting in record numbers, but the government deemed thousands of parents of these servicemen as “enemy aliens” because they never went through the process of becoming citizens.

These Italians were subjected to multiple restrictions, arrests, relocations, and detention. In fact, the government decided that any Italian who lived here for many years and did not seek citizenship was disloyal; though the reality was many never learned English which was basic for passing a citizenship test. These were the mothers and fathers of those off to war. These branded Italian Americans couldn’t travel more than five miles from home without police permission. They also gave up short wave radios and cameras. They were subjected to spot searches and arrests and hundreds were kept in internment camps for the duration of the war. 

Thousands of Italian Americans living on the Pacific Coast near waterfront areas had to move while others had a 6 p.m. curfew. The FBI had a Detention List of potential security threats. They could arrest anyone. The government created prohibited zones along the entire Pacific Coast and the army had the power to exclude anyone from these areas. Thousands of Italians were forced to move. San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf was off limits to Italians who made a living fishing off their vessels. The situation was so ludicrous that if one parent was a citizen and the other an enemy alien, the citizen could stay in the home and the alien had to move. Men and women were no longer able to enter their business because it was in a prohibited zone. If the enemy alien needed medical attention, he/she had to get a permit from the police. Italian American fishermen could not step onto the wharves.

As months passed, President Roosevelt realized the policy affected much of the Italian population – one which had the highest enlistments in the military than any other ethnic group. On Columbus Day, Oct. 12, 1942, the government declared the Italian Americans had proved their loyalty and no longer lived under restrictions. The enemy status was lifted.