WARTIME LEGISLATION PASSES!


The Wartime Violation of Italian American Civil Liberties Act was signed by President William J. Clinton into Public Law #106-451 on November 7, 2000.

The following press release was issued by the Western Regional Chapter of the American Italian Italian Historical Association:

AMERICAN ITALIAN HISTORICAL ASSOCIATION
Western Regional Chapter
P.O. Box 533 (415) 868-0538 Bolinas, CA 94924

November 8, 2000 Contact: Lawrence DiStasi
President

PRESS RELEASE

WARTIME VIOLATION OF ITALIAN AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES ACT
PASSES HOUSE & SENATE--PRESIDENT CLINTON SIGNS IT

Photo from Judiciary Committee Hearings, October 26, 1999(BOLINAS, CA) - Following the long-delayed Senate passage of S1909 on October 19, the Wartime Violation of Italian American Civil Liberties Act, which had passed the House on November 10, 1999, returned to the House for a new vote over technical changes in its language. House Judiciary Chairman Henry Hyde called for lawmakers to support it, and on October 24, HR 2442 passed by unanimous voice vote once again. The wartime bill then went to the President for his signature, who signed it on the evening of November 7, thus making it the law of the land--Public Law #106-451.

This is a signal moment for people of Italian descent in America. First, it at last makes official a truth which has been routinely denied for more than fifty years: the United States government's little-known mistreatment of Italian resident aliens during World War II. Perhaps more than that, as the most significant, and virtually the only legislation ever passed on behalf of Italian Americans, it provides a model for legislative action whereby the real concerns of Italian Americans can take their rightful place on the national agenda.

The bill is the fruition of six years of travel by the exhibit Una Storia Segreta--the project whose nearly fifty appearances nationwide brought these events to the attention of large numbers of Italian Americans and the general public. A product of the American Italian Historical Association's Western Chapter, Una Storia Segreta is a tribute to the power of an historical truth and the determination of a few people to bring that truth into public awareness. It is also a tribute to the capacity, so long hoped-for, of Italian American organizations to work together in a common cause. For in support of both the exhibit and the Wartime Violations Act, NIAF, OSIA, UNICO national and countless smaller Italian American organizations have played a role in creating continuous pressure to move this story to the national level.

At that national level, particular congratulations are due to John Calvelli, chair of the Council of Presidents, who wrote the legislation while in Congressman Eliot Engel's office, and Tony La Piana, of Chicago's National Italian American Council, who worked to move the powerful chairmen of both House and Senate Judiciary committees--Henry Hyde and Orrin Hatch--to support the Wartime Violations Act. Many thanks are due as well to the legislators who introduced and managed the bill itself--Representatives Eliot Engel and Rick Lazio of New York, the bill's original sponsors, and Senator Robert Torricelli of New Jersey, who introduced it in the Senate.

Last but by no means least, thanks are due to all those who remembered these events and came forward to tell their stories, for it was they, above all, who put an undeniably human face on what had so long been denied.

Lawrence DiStasi
Project Director
Una Storia Segreta


DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE REPORT OFFICIALLY DOCUMENTS WARTIME VIOLATIONS

On November 7, 2001, one year after the enactment of Public Law #106-451, the United States Department of Justice issued the report mandated by the Wartime Violation of Italian American Civil Liberties Act. Titled "Report to the Congress of the United States: A Review of the Restrictions on Persons of Italian Ancestry During World War II," the report provides a brief history of the various restrictions and includes relevant government documents from the time. It is based on research done by the Civil Rights Division, under the direction of Joanne Chiedi, and interviews with survivors nationwide. It contains several appendices which provide lists of internees, a partial list of those forced to evacuate, lists of those arrested for various violations, a list of ports from which Italian fishermen were restricted, and a list of historical records reviewed.

Though not a complete account of the history, the Report is significant as an official acknowledgment of events that have long been denied, in particular, the mass evacuation in California. Regarding the latter, it says, in part:

"Thus, the only mass temporary evacuation of Italian enemy aliens--the one imposed in mid-February by the Justice Department and reinforced by Lt. General DeWitt's Proclamation NO. 1 in March--was the one that had already occurred on the West Coast." (p. 26)

This sentence, the first official admission by the U.S. Government that there was indeed a mass evacuation of Italian Americans during WWII, represents a major accomplishment for Una Storia Segreta, and for the truth about the wartime history in general. Most previous accounts--both by historians and by the Commission on the Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (and the book it issued, Personal Justice Denied)--have either ignored or obscured this evacuation, usually emphasizing that a mass evacuation of Italian and German enemy aliens after Executive Order 9066 did not take place. As stated above, and as Una Storia Segreta has long emphasized, the Report makes clear that the mass evacuation was, in fact, ordered before EO 9066 was promulgated.

This historic document is available to anyone interested in the wartime story. To obtain a free copy, call (202) 514-4224, and ask for the Italian Report.