Discrimination Immigration

Understanding Executive Order 9066

This weekend is 80 years since the enactment of Executive Order (EO) 9066. Most know it as the steps taken by President Franklin D. Roosevelt after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor to restrict and intern Japanese immigrants and Americans of Japanese descent. I’ve seen many notes of memorial on social media about it. What many do not know, however, is that EO 9066 affected Italians as well.

Alien and Sedition Act

Over 600,000 Italian immigrants and American of Italian descent were classified as “enemy aliens” and many were detained by the Department of Justice under the Alien and Sedition Act. They were interned, had their homes, businesses, and personal items confiscated, their movements restricted, and their good names soiled.

A sign posted on Terminal Island in California in 1942 denoting it as an Alien Enemy Prohibited Area and states that all aliens of Japanese, Italian & German origin must vacate the area by midnight by order of the US government. (Credit: John Florea/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

They were forced to surrender cameras, binoculars, flash lights, short-wave radio receiving sets, and radio transmitters. Additionally, they were subject to curfew and movement restrictions, and later were forced to move out of certain areas. In January 1942, all “enemy aliens” were required to register at local post offices and were required to be fingerprinted, photographed, and carry their photo-bearing “enemy alien registration cards” at all times. They were not allowed to move beyond a five-mile perimeter from their homes. The Italian language was considered an “enemy language” and many stopped speaking it completely, fearing retribution from the government. Today, the Italian language is quickly dying in the United States. Many look to EO9066 as the beginning of that sharp decline.

Despite the terrible treatment by the federal government, Italian immigrants and Americans of Italian descent signed up to fight as Americans in World War II, making up over 10% of the fighting force; more than any other ethnicity.

Sadly, this treatment is not known unless you actually search out this portion of America’s history. For decades this information remained classified. In 1999, Rep. Rick Lazio (R – 2nd District, New York) introduced HR 2442, “Wartime Violation of Italian American Civil Liberties Act.” The bill was agreed to by both chambers on October 24, 2000, and then signed into law by President Clinton on November 7, 2000.

Included in the new law was the following:
“Even 50 years later much information is still classified, the full story remains unknown to the public, and it has never been acknowledged in any official capacity by the United States Government.”

In November 2001, the US Department of Justice submitted a report 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″ and is available for download at the Tuna Canyon Detention Station website.

If not for the efforts of Professor DiStasi from the University of California, this story may never have been shared. In 1994, DiStasi organized a historical exhibition that traveled the country to broadcast this story. It was called, “Una Storia Segreta: When Italian-Americans Were Enemy Aliens.” There is a book as well on the subject; I highly recommend it.

So as we remember those Japanese immigrants and American of Japanese descent who were affected so many decades ago, we should also remember the Italians and Germans in the United States that suffered as well.

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