Enemy Alien Registration and Restrictions

Photo of contraband radio
Contraband, including flashlights, had to be surrendered by aliens. This radio was hidden beneath Gian Banchero's bed by his grandfather during the war.
In January of 1942, all enemy aliens were required to register at local post offices around the country. Although all resident aliens had already registered in 1940 under the Smith Act, now as 'enemy' aliens they would be required to be fingerprinted, photographed, and carry their photo-bearing "enemy alien registration cards" at all times. To those affected, this was alarming; in retrospect, it recalls the authoritarian methods of the very fascists it was meant to combat.

Then came a series of Army proclamations, some directed at all enemy aliens, some only for those on the West Coast:

  1. Travel: no travel beyond a five-mile radius of home; longer trips require application for travel permit.
  2. Contraband: all firearms, shortwave radios, cameras, and "signaling devices" (including flashlights) prohibited; all to be turned in or confiscated. Many were never returned.
  3. Curfew: enemy aliens on the West Coast confined to homes between 8:00pm and 6:00am.

Photo of Caterina Cardinale
Caterina Cardinale had to evacuate her Pittsburg home.
The impact of these restrictions was widespread and apparently unanticipated by the government. In places like Monterey, Santa Cruz, Pittsburg, and San Francisco -- where the Italians, many of them long-term residents without final citizenship papers, constituted a majority of the fishermen, scavengers, restaurant workers, and janitors -- the restrictions created serious employment and food-supply problems.

The impact on personal lives can only be suggested. Because of the travel restrictions, mothers could not visit their children in hospitals if they were more than five miles away. Families could not attend a relative's funeral. No alien could make a trip to visit distant friends or relatives, nor even visit their own sons in uniform at military installations.

For the fishermen, the regulations seemed arbitrary at best, foolish or cruel at worst. In Pittsburg, the inland fishermen were classed as an exempt industry and so were allowed to fish. However, Monterey and San Francisco fishermen (and all those who fished in the Pacific Ocean) were restricted: the aliens could not go out on their boats, and scores of citizens who owned large purse seiners had them confiscated by the Coast Guard for patrol duty. Giuseppe Spadaro's "Marettimo" was returned to him in such poor condition that he could not use it; before he could have it repaired, a storm destroyed it altogether.

In the West, the curfew caused fear, suspicion, and worse. Those picked up for violations were left to wonder if a neighbor had informed on them. Animosities festered and lingered. The legacy of all this is hard to calculate, but one thing seems evident: arresting a truck farmer unable to complete his delivery run by 8pm probably did little to help security but much to destroy the trust necessary for community life. And whether such a person could ever trust his government is something else again.

Photo of Antonino Alioto
Antonino Alioto was able to continue fishing during the war, apparently because he only fished within San Francisco Bay. Countless others who fished ocean waters, including Joe DiMaggio's father, were severely restricted.