FACT SHEET ON THE INTERNMENT OF ITALIAN AMERICANS DURING WORLD WAR I
Many people know that Japanese Americans were evacuated from their homes and relocated to internment camps during World War II. But few people realize that 10,000 Italian Americans were also interned by the government during this time, and some 600,000 Italian Americans were compelled to register as "enemy aliens," though they had done nothing wrong.
Author Lisa Scottoline's own grandparents, Giuseppe and Maria Scottoline, were registered as enemy aliens on February 27, 1942, although they had lived in Philadelphia for thirty years without violating any laws. In fact, at the same time that the Scottolines were considered enemies of the country, their son, Lisa's father Frank Scottoline, was serving in the United States Air Force, fighting against the Axis powers.
At the outbreak of World War II, President Roosevelt signed into law a series of presidential orders which identified all Italian-born Americans as "enemy aliens." The presidential orders compelled Italian Americans to register as enemy aliens, and some 600,000 registered. The orders also authorized their arrest by the FBI and/or relocation to internment camps. As a result, more than ten thousand Italian Americans living in this country at the beginning of World War II were evacuated from their homes and places of business and sent to internment camps around the country.
The major internment sites for Italian Americans were Fort George Meade in Maryland, Camp McAlester in Oklahoma, Fort Sam Houston in Texas, and Camp Forrest in Tennessee. Italian Americans were also sent to Fort Missoula, Montana, and any one of the forty-five other internment camps used by the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Provost Marshal General's Office.
Some of these Italians interned were visitors to the United States - such as waiters working at the World's Fair in New York or sailors on visiting cruise ships - but many were Italian Americans who had lived in the United States for decades without violating any laws or without giving the government any factual basis for designating them as enemies. Some were editors of Italian newspapers, bankers, or other professionals. Many had adult children serving in the United States military, fighting against Axis nations, including Mussolini's Italy.
Italian Americans on the West Coast were greatly affected, because the enforcing general on the West Coast, Lieutenant General John DeWitt of the Western Defense Command, was vigorous in his enforcement of the presidential orders. In addition, the government believed that the coasts of the United States were vulnerable to communication with the enemy. Italian Americans were registered as enemy aliens en masse and as many as 52,000 Italian Americans on the West Coast had their daily travels confined to "exclusionary zones" and were subject to dusk-to-dawn curfews. For example, the father of baseball great Joe DiMaggio was not permitted to visit his son's restaurant on Fisherman's Wharf, because it lay outside his exclusionary zone. Fishermen and sailors were particularly targeted, for this reason. Many were no longer allowed to work as fishermen, and in some instances had their boats seized.
Italian-American residents of the east coast registered en masse as enemy aliens. They were not permitted to travel without their registration booklet and were subject to inspection and search on demand. Many had their homes searched for flashlights and radios, and this property was confiscated on the belief that it could be used to signal enemy submarines and warships off the East Coast. As on the West Coast, the fishing business on east coast port cities such as Philadelphia, Boston, and Gloucester were affected. Fishermen were not permitted to fish, even if it supported their families, and in Boston alone, 200 fishermen alone were grounded.
Author Lisa Scottoline's own grandparents, Giuseppe and Maria Scottoline, registered as enemy aliens on February 27, 1942, although they had lived in Philadelphia for thirty years without violating any laws. In fact, at the same time that they were being considered enemies of the country, their son, Frank Scottoline, had enlisted in the United States Air Force and was fighting for the United States in World War II. This was not atypical, of course, for families who had lived in this country for such a long time and raised children here. A copy of their alien registration cards is attached.
The status of enemy alien was eventually lifted, but the suspicion, hard feelings, and monetary losses remained. To date, no reparations have been demanded or paid to any Italian American interned and no reimbursement has ever been made to them for any property confiscated.
In 1999, as a result of lobbying by the Italian American community, the United States Congress addressed the treatment of Italian Americans during World War II, which resulted in House Resolution 2442, acknowledging that the United States violated the civil rights of Italian Americans during World War II. The bill was passed in the House of Representatives in 1999, the Senate in 2000, and signed by President Clinton in 2000.
The September 11 terrorist attacks and the current war with Iraq has raised questions regarding the suspension of civil liberties during wartime. This summer, the Supreme Court will decide a number of legal questions concerning the rights of "enemy aliens" and "enemy combatants," including the right to sue in U.S. courts for unlawful detention in internment camps. As long as there is armed conflict, whether abroad or on our shores, these legal and emotional issues will recur, and will shape the contours of justice.
Lawrence Distasi, Una Storia Segreta; The Secret History of the Italian American Evacuation and Internment During World War II (2001)
Stephen Fox, Uncivil Liberties: Italian Americans Under Siege during World War II (2000)
Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, All The Laws But One; Civil Liberties in Wartime (Random House 1998)
Carol Van Walkenburg, An Alien Place, The Fort Missoula , Montana, detention Camp, 1941-1944 (1995)
Gary Glynn, Montana's Home Front During World War II (1994)
Umberto Benedetti, Italian Boys at Fort Missoula, Montana, 1941-1943 (1991)
Bella Vista, An Unseen View of WWII, television program produced by Kathy Willows and Montanans for Quality Television.